District cuts salary offer to UCF teachers, talks stalled

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Cites health care costs, proposal slows seniority wages hike cut framework previously rejected by teachers.

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
As expected, the failure of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School district and its teachers to reach a deal on a new contract by July 1 meant two things: teachers won’t see a change in their health care costs or contribution in the 2011-12 school year and the district has cut its wage offer to the union — and returned to half-steps, a change to the seniority plan completely rejected previously by teachers.

Any momentum that contract talks appeared to get gaining in June appear to have been stopped dead.

“We respect our teachers and appreciate the role they play in our success,” said a statement issued by the district. “As stewards of our district resources, we strive to support and build on this success while balancing spending with reasonable taxation. To do so requires planning, which must include the goal of achieving financial stability that will allow us to avoid the time consuming and anxiety-provoking exercise of budget cutting.”

The teachers said that the new offer is a blow to progress in negotiations to reach a new deal.

“It’s tremendously disappointing,” said Pat Clark, president of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association, the teachers’ union. “It’s a definite step backwards. Just when it looked like we could focus on one major hurdle and move towards settlement, we’ve lost ground.”

The UCFEA plans a more formal written response to the lengthy statement issued by the district late last week.

As June wound down, sources close to the negotiations suggested that slow but steady progress was being made toward a new deal — but this latest offer appears to have reversed that progress and basically put talks back at square one, sources close to the negotiation said.

The district statement put the onus on the teachers, suggesting that allowing the July 1 deadline to pass gave it little choice but to severely slash the previous offer.

As time passes, the Board’s salary offers to the UCFEA have been and will continue to be affected by the economic climate, our inability to realize health care savings until a contract is signed, and decreased financial support from the State,” the statement said. “The Board participated in the Fact Finding process requested by the UCFEA and stretched to accept the February Fact Finder’s recommendation that would have given the teachers an average raise of $4,350 over 3 years. After this recommendation was rejected twice by the UCFEA and the District later was notified of probable funding cuts from Harrisburg, the Board put forth a proposal that was somewhat more affordable to the District, trimming the proposed salary increase by approximately $500 per teacher, on average.

“Because the July deadline for healthcare enrollment has now passed, the District must continue to provide 92.5% of healthcare costs for UCFEA members, at a cost of over $17,000 for each member enrolled in the family plan. This level of healthcare expense was not anticipated in the Fact Finder’s report nor in the Board’s previous offers. Without the ability to achieve savings in healthcare costs, the Board once again, had to reduce its salary offer an average of $1,000 per teacher below the Fact Finder’s recommendation.”

Neither side, it appears, seems to feel it has much motivation now to negotiate. As the status quo is better for many teachers — in terms of net cost — than the new board proposal, sources suggested little need to rush into a deal, especially in light of November elections that could dramatically reshape the Board of Education, and potentially lead to a board more willing to work them them.

The district, meanwhile, seems to suggest that teachers aren’t going to find a better deal elsewhere and should be satisfied with the new offer.

“Teachers have “told us with their feet” that they are being fairly compensated with the current (2009-10) contract,” the district statement said. “The evidence is overwhelming. The low turnover rate among existing teachers confirms the district’s ability to retain our excellent educators with the current compensation package. Few, if any, of our dedicated teachers leave for financial reasons. The number of resumes submitted in response to an open position posting confirms the district’s ability to attract excellent educators without any addition to the current compensation package. The response to our postings yields a significant number of applicants usually within three days of the initial posting. Some postings attract pools of candidates large enough to require teams of administrators to process and review the materials in a timely manner.”

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