Residents, board members and teachers cross words

Words were pointed but civil during the Sept. 20
Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board meeting with board member Jeff Leiser
rebuffing allegations that the board has been acting in bad faith.

Members of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association
have challenged the board’s representation of the contract proposals made by
both sides. The teachers are currently working under the terms of the contract
that expired in June.

“The school board has been charged with not negotiating in
good faith,” Leiser said. “I respectfully disagree…I believe good faith means
listening respectfully to each other, trying to understand each side’s needs
and developing a mutually beneficial proposal.

“A proposal is mutually beneficial if it meets the
educational needs of our students [with] a fair and competitive compensation
package for our teachers and is economically sustainable to our taxpayers. The
association’s demands, as they stand today, are not economically sustainable,”
Leiser said.

He said that if the board gave in to the association’s
current request, it would have a hard time trying to balance future budgets.
The board would have to decide whether to lay off teachers and staff, add to
class size above current guidelines, cut extracurricular programs or try to
raise taxes above legal limits.

Leiser then cited the harsh economic realities of layoffs,
and pay and benefit cuts faced by many residents in the district.

“Few have a fine retirement plan like our teachers do…Is it
fair to our neighbors to heap an additional financial burden on them? Or, do we
want to risk diminishing the excellence in education within the
Unionville-Chadds Ford School District?

“I’m called upon to fulfill my fiduciary responsibilities as
a school board member. I want to express my support for the School Board’s
offer. It offers a compensation package that escalates better than most ever
see in the private sector,” Leisr said.

Pat Clark, Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association
president said, “Our school teachers are not the greedy villains that some
people portray us to be. Our teachers have families and they have expenses and
they have bills that they must pay as well… We believe we do a quality job,
perhaps the best job in Pennsylvania, and we believe that we have the right to
ask that we be compensated in that manner.”

Beginning teachers—based on the 2009-2010 contract—get a
salary of more than $47,743, the highest amount in 13 Chester County school
districts. The highest paid teachers in U-CF get a salary of $101,427, the
fourth highest among the same 13 districts. The average salary is $74,798. With
benefits that package costs the district $97,092.

The above figures are based on a board statement that can be
found at http://www.ucfsd.org/pdf/091310nn.pdf

The proposals on that site indicate the board is offering an
increase of 1.8 percent for each of the first two years of a four-year
contract, no increase the third year, but a 3.8 increase in year four.

The union’s counter proposal, according to the statement,
shows the association asking for a 5 percent increase in year one, a 4.7
percent increase the second year, 4.6 percent in years three and four.

According to Clark, though, “The School Board’s numbers are
somewhat misleading. The 1.8 percent increase is not for every teacher. The prep costs (for advanced classes
teachers take) do not go for every teacher. We’re looking at a situation where
some of our best and most experienced teachers will get no raise for three
years.”

He said the prep movement is usually covered by attrition,
something the board has traditionally supported.

“We have come to the table in good faith and we understand
that the children are the most important asset…but it is time to get a contract
done for the good of the community and the good of the children,” Clark said.

Clark also said the two sides hadn’t met since May. Board
member Frank Murphy denied that assertion.

Murphy said there have been numerous e-mails exchanged
between the negotiators and the board has met whenever the association asked.

“This is not a situation where one party wants to meet and
the other doesn’t,” Murphy said. “…The board stands ready to meet with you. You
stand ready to meet with us. I believe our negotiators are going back and forth
on a date, a time and a place. So I think we’ll be meeting pretty soon.”

He added that prep raises are included in the board’s figures.

Roughly 14 residents spoke during the session, with most of
the residents siding with the board’s position.

Malcolm Watts, of East Marlborough Township said the
teachers were lucky to have jobs. He said his daughter, also a teacher, but in
another district, earned a teacher of the month award in April, but was laid
off at the end of the last school year.

“I think it’s a bit audacious asking for any raise at all at
this time, rather than just being glad you have a job.” Watts said. “In the
last decade, the millage rate has gone up close to 5 percent. This is certainly
well above inflation and cost of living indexes, and again you’re asking for
more. It doesn’t sit well.”

Gordon Wilkes, also of East Marlborough Township, handed out
a comparison of teachers’ salaries. It indicates 35 percent of U-CF teachers
earn $80,000 or more per year, while the average in other districts is only 15
percent.

“We are paying a lot, and I support the gracious offer the
board has made. I did not get a pay raise this year…I think the School Board
has made a very good offer,” Wilkes said.

Andrea Clifford, another resident, said the teachers were
fortunate to have jobs, that they are paid well and should be glad that they don’t
have to deal with an inner city environment with police in the hallways.

Elizabeth Jones, of Newlin Township, said the teachers do an
excellent job, but urged a compromise.

“I applaud the teachers… Somewhere, somehow there’s a
compromise… We should pay them,” she said.

Beverly Brooks, of Pennsbury Township also spoke in favor of
the teachers.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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