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NEW!! Op Ed by Larry Pastor:

Posted on August 18, 2010 at 9:38 AM

Whose voice will rise above the din of selfish demands?

As published in the Bucks County Courier Times July 21, 2010

"With all the recent developments in Neshaminy School District, you likely missed the restart and halt of the teachers' contract negotiations. After publicly demanding the board resume negotiations during a raucous performance at the May 19 meeting, Louise Boyd, the teachers union president, abruptly canceled a June 30 meeting. After two full years of non-negotiations, her excuse was they needed more time.

The union has since rescheduled for tonight, confirming there is absolutely no urgency by our teachers to finalize a contract prior to September. Based on past performance, Boyd is likely meeting tonight just so she can claim that the board is not negotiating "fairly"; they will then continue their "work to contract" action and likely call a strike this fall.

A meeting was held on June 3; however, the teachers union arrived stunningly empty-handed as the board delivered its updated offer. Therefore, the only proposal from the union, made in May 2008, concedes nothing and only adds more to their last outrageous contract. They are still demanding what no other district provides -free Rolls Royce health insurance while working and retired, 6 percent annual raises including steps, $30,000 retirement bonuses, longevity bonuses and less teaching time just to name just a few. Over two years, support for the teachers evaporated due to the recession and due to the district's own financial crisis, including $22 million in deficits. The union's ridiculous demands and bad behavior also have alienated taxpayers.

After members of the support staff union ratified a contract with significant concessions, Boyd said, "We will not be bullied into a take it or leave it form of negotiations regardless of the district's dealings with other labor groups." This comment insults the support workers and is not encouraging a resolution.

Following the support staff contract success, the teachers' disastrous "work to contract" action, which only hurts students, an arrogant walkout of 350 teachers when parents were speaking during a board meeting and the displays of massive public support for the board's positions, this board stands united and steeled for a fight.

Thanks to sound fiscal management by the board, taxpayers can live without a teachers contract for awhile. We also owe thanks to the support staff, especially courageous bus drivers like Chuck Torpey, who with great eloquence publicly expressed the need for all district employees to give back.

There has to be a Chuck Torpey among teachers, ready to stand up to a misguided union and do the right thing. It can't be easy watching neighbors struggle financially while their union pursues excess in an aggressive self-interested quest for an unjustified and unaffordable contract. It takes one brave voice to lead the way.

With unprecedented transparency, this board has accomplished much. They balanced the budget yielding a zero tax increase! Finalizing the support staff contract lowered labor costs. They voted 9-0 for a resolution banning teacher strikes. They officially re-offered teachers a fair contract, with 3 percent raises including steps, 17 percent health care contributions that include current retirees, no retro pay increase for last two years, no future retiree health care etc. Finally, they did all this with zero cuts to education.

You may have seen that the support staff contract included a "Me Too" clause allowing everyone to get the health care deal teachers negotiate, if it is better. At first blush, this may not seem good; however, on closer inspection I believe it actually protects students and taxpayers. There is no way this board, and more importantly future boards, could afford to have teachers pay less than 15 percent of health care that the much lower-earning support workers are paying.

More importantly, by law, it is impossible to raise taxes enough to cover the cost of all district employees paying less than 15 percent. This puts pressure on the current board to secure an affordable teachers contract (avoiding cutting education at all costs); if negotiations extend past 2011 future boards will have to follow the same strategy and finally there will be intense public pressure on teachers to concede.

This board has earned the support of the community by doing what we elect them to do. They need to continue to focus on prudent fiscal management on behalf of their stakeholders, students and taxpayers, whose voices they have heard. With time on our side, let's give them what time they need to get this right.

When the teachers' contract is complete with needed concessions, only then will Neshaminy have the money to invest in education programs, no longer just in making our teachers even more affluent!"

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