Unionville cuts offer to teachers, cites state aid cuts

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Follows Gov. Corbett’s call for pay freeze by offering no raise in current year

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Although it appears some progress had been made in the ongoing contract talks between the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and its teachers, the district has pulled a previous offer from the negotiating table, based on a deal proposed by a state mediator, and have revised their offer downward, citing the cuts in state aid and Gov. Tom Corbett’s call for teachers to take a one-year pay freeze.

The district issued a statement late last week on the negotiations, just days after reaching a deal with the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association (UCFEA) on allowing Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker to determine which courses and from what institutions they could get reimbursement for continuing education and indications that some progress was being made in the talks.

“With Governor Corbett’s announcement of proposed funding cuts, the School Board has been forced to take the Fact Finder’s Recommendation ‘off the table’ and replace it with a more affordable offer,” the statement said. “As time passes, the Board’s offer to the UCFEA becomes increasingly challenged by the economic climate.”

While the numbers have narrowed between the two sides, with the union seeking a 2.4% increase for the current school year, 3.6% in 2011-12 and 3.9% in 2012-13, down from seeking a roughly 4.5% average increase over three years. The district is countering with a wage freeze for the current year and raises of 2.1% in 2011-12 and 3.1% in 2012-13.

One other stumbling block: the teachers want to keep their current district self-insured Independence Blue Cross Personal Choice administered PPO, while the district wants teachers to switch to IBX’s Keystone Direct plan, which works more like an HMO, but is about 10% less expensive on average, with the option of teachers paying out of pocket to upgrade back to the PPO.

There appears to have been some compromise on step, or seniority, increases. The district proposal now calls for a full step increase, mid year, in the second and third years of the deal. The fact-finders report called for half-step increases — and union officials worried that it would set a bad precedent not just for the district, but others around the state, as no other district’s teachers have agreed to essentially double the time it takes to reach full seniority, now 16 years.

But the gap between the two sides remains fairly large.

According to numbers cited by the district — and disputed by the union, because of the inclusion of pension numbers — in terms of total compensation, the district and the union are about $660,000 apart in year one (a little more than $63 a year for an average property paying $5,000 in school taxes), $1.98 million in year two (or just under $200 in taxes for that average home) and $2.31 million in year three (or about $220 in taxes for that same home). In total, the two sides are about $4.8 million apart.

In fairness, the numbers change a lot when the Public School Employee Retirement System numbers are backed out — which the teachers say is fair, because they continued to pay their share when the state and district did not for many years. Current projections — for either proposal — suggest PSERS contribution will triple from about $3,500 per teacher to around $10,000 by the 2012-13 school year. Of course, the differences in the salaries do impact the PSERS numbers, but the difference is a very small amount of the overall difference between the two sides. Between the two proposals, though, the difference in numbers is $267,960 over three years assuming 330 total teachers, or about $8 in taxes for the average property per year.

The biggest difference, beyond basic salary, comes from health care. The differences between the two sides amount to $1,206,150 (based on 330 teachers) over the final two years of the contract (the current year is locked in with the current Personal Choice plan).

While negotiations are ongoing, both sides face some pressure to get a deal done. With $1.1 million in looming cuts of state aid, the district would like to slash its health care costs, allowing to minimize the cuts in program. Meanwhile, teachers have been without a raise, or seniority increase, and the longer the talks drag on, the longer that continues.

 

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