Despite funds restoration, Unionville unlikely to rehire layoffs

Administrators preparing plan for $827K; teacher contract talks seen as stalled again

By Mike McGann, Editor,
EAST MARLBOROUGH — While the restoration of some $827,000 in state funds gives the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education some options in the coming weeks, it appears that one option won’t be restoring any of the support positions slashed in the 2011-12 budget.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker said last week she and her staff were working on a set of options for the board to consider, and that the will of the board seemed to suggest it would not support restoring any of the job cuts — although a vocal minority, led by member Holly Manzone, voiced support for such an option earlier this year.

At this point, Parker said, what extra money isn’t set aside as reserve to protect against spikes in pension and health care costs in coming years or — as Finance Committee chair Keith Knauss called for, returning some to the taxpayer — will be used to purchase educational materials that had been put off and potentially some program restoration. The laid off workers, Parker said, will get first consideration for any openings that occur.

Although it’s possible the board won’t offer any formal direction on the funds, Parker expressed hope that a special Finance Committee meeting could be held later this month to provide the administration with more of a framework as to how the board would like the funds allocated.

And while the budget — both the state’s and the district’s  — remain firmed up,  the big unknown continues to be the ongoing negotiations on a new teachers’ contract. The district and the teachers’ union, the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association have now gone more than a year without a contract.

While both sides exchanged some public shots last month, talks did appear to be making slow but steady progress. However, with the passing of the July 1 deadline — a key date for enrollment in the district’s health care program — sources are now suggesting that both sides are further apart.

Before the July 1 date, the teachers had accepted a pay structure and a number — but not all  — of the work rules sought by the district. The sticking point, sources on both sides agreed, was the health care plan. The district was asking the teachers to accept a health care plan similar to that given to the district’s administrators, while the union held firm to keeping their current plan, albeit with additional employee contributions.

With the July 1 enrollment deadline passing, apparently it would not be possible for the district to change teachers to a less costly health care plan for the 2011-12 school year. District sources say that the previous pay offer is now off the table, as the additional costs of health care for this school year must be factored into a new offer.

Meanwhile, tonight, the public at large will get their chance to have input into the search to replace Parker, slated to retire at the end of the summer, at a special focus group tonight.

The search process is being led by Dr. Joseph O’Brien, Executive Director of the Chester County Intermediate Unit. There have already been focus groups of parents, teachers and other groups to identify the specific qualities the next Unionville Superintendent of Schools should have.

“As a key component of this process, the board is seeking input from our school, parent and community leaders by tapping into their experience and insight through a focus group,” O’Brien said in a statement. “To do this, the UCF school directors are conducting a series of focus groups to discuss educational issues facing our community, and the qualities and skills that will be essential for UCF’s next superintendent to successfully address these issues. The board has selected the Chester County Intermediate Unit to conduct the search and the focus groups.”

The event is slated to take place at the Unionville High School cafeteria from 7 to 9 p.m. RSVPs — by emailing or calling 484-237-5010 — are appreciated but not required.

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