Money still an issue for U-CF

With teachers in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District about to start a new year without a new contract, money remains an issue in the district.

The teachers’ contract expired at the end of the last academic year and teachers have agreed to work status quo — under the old contract — until a new agreement is reached.

School Board President Vic Dupuis said during the Aug. 17 board meeting that a formal, closed-door, fact-finding hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25 with the state Labor Relations Board.

The hearing officer, Dupuis said, would publish a report by Aug. 31 for the board and teachers’ association. The board then has 10 days to approve or disapprove the report. The board has scheduled a public meeting for 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8, in the district office for deliberation and vote on that report.

During school director comments, three directors made reference to the contract and teacher salaries.

Jeff Hellrung addressed the issue of salaries as they relate to retirement strategy. Most people have, or should have, a three-part strategy involving a 401(k) from work, their own personal IRA, and Social Security, which would equal about 80 to 90 percent of a person’s income.

“That’s the world for most of our constituents,” he said.

Teachers, however, are different. For those hired before July 1, 2011, the defined retirement plan is 2.5 percent of their salary multiplied by the number of years they teach, he said. For those teaching for 35 years, that would come to about 87 percent of their salary, just from the work component and not including personal IRAs and Social Security.

He also said teachers and the district also pay into a retirement system for them.

“Teachers have a very generous defined retirement plan. They’re entitled to it; they earned it. It was part of the deal they got. I don’t begrudge it,” Hellrung said. “But, it’s very expensive to the district.”

He said the biggest obstacle to work out is how to balance the state-mandated Act 1 limits on tax increases with the state-mandated retirement rate increases.

“For that reason, the salary increases are less than what I had hoped they would be,” he said.

Hellrung added that he’s hopeful the board and the teachers’ association will reach a solution satisfactory for both sides.

Keith Knauss then addressed a comment made by fellow Director Michael Rock during budget talks this past spring. Knauss took exception to Rock’s suggestion that the district is on an “incremental slope to degradation.”

Knauss then showed a graph that reflected continued improvement in SAT scores by district students during the last 17 years.

That graph showed the average combined math and verbal scores improving from less than 1,100 to more than 1,160, while the nationwide average remained about 1,020 for the same period of time.

“It’s time to celebrate the progress we’ve made for the past two decades,” Knauss said, adding that the improved scores reflected improved college readiness for the students and that the PSSA scores show a similar trend.

Those scores, along with the district’s improved rankings in national publications and the increase in the number of National Merit scholars and Blue Ribbon schools, all indicate excellence within U-CF, he said.

“Our district had been known for good schools; now we’re known for our great schools,” he added.

Knauss also noted that the progress was achieved during a time of “modest spending” and said it’s the “fiduciary duty to spend just what is needed.”

He then challenged Rock to explain his comment in June about incremental degradation.

Rock’s comment at the time came when the board voted for a 2.2 percent tax increase instead of a 2.6 percent increase.

Rock responded to Knauss with a 16-minute PowerPoint presentation titled “Cost Disease at UCFSD,” which cited various academic literature and studies.

He defined cost disease as a situation in which costs increase, but without an equal increase in productivity. Examples used included the increase in medical and legal services along with increased costs in wages at colleges and universities compared to the average increase in the Consumer Price Index. All of the costs increased more than the CPI.

And while he acknowledged the difficulty in getting increased productivity in education, he said the district should increase its costs by giving teachers more money to avoid incremental degradation of the district’s product, education.

Rock summarized his point in a telephone interview, saying that unless teachers are given salary increases beyond that of inflation, the better teachers are apt to look for other districts where they can make more money.

He said even giving increases equal to inflation would actually cause real wages to fall, which he called “a rising gap.”

“In the end, that rising gap will drive good people out of education and you’ll be left with lower quality people. That will translate into a lower quality product,” Rock said.

He also took issue with Knauss’ point that the teaching at U-CF is what has caused the increase in SAT scores. Rock said other factors could be in play, such as students’ taking SAT prep classes.

“I would never look at SAT scores or PSSA scores as a measure of student outcomes because those high-stake tests drive some teachers to teach to the test,” he said.

Rock said he wants the district to use the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, which students take three times during their K through 12 years.

He said it’s not a high-stake test because it has no effect on whether a student gets into college, so there’s no pressure on the teacher or student.

“It’s a truer measure of educational progress,” Rock said.

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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