Wednesday, March 23, 2011

EASD Now Threatening to Fire 215 Teachers

The teachers' union says this is just a scare tactic...
Posted by: Noël Jones


Colin McEvoy of the Express-Times reports that the Easton Area School District is now threatening to fire 215 teachers to meet the $14 million shortfall in the budget this year. The head of the teachers' union, Kevin Deely, says that he believes his members would agree to a wage-freeze this year, but only if the district fires no teachers at all. Furthermore, Deely says, the threat is just a "scare tactic" to frighten "rank and file teachers."


Not that Deely doesn't have a point, but I have two problems with the word choice here:


1. "Rank and file teachers" suggests regular teachers, regular union members, newer teachers, younger teachers--teachers who have no power in the decision making process by union representatives (who are not just "rank and file" teachers, but teachers with seniority and political power within the union). In other words, "rank and file teachers" are the ones actually in danger of getting fired, while those in secure and powerful positions within the membership driving the negotiations are safe from the risk.


2. The phrase "scare tactic" suggests that a) there is no legitimate reason for "rank and file" teachers to fear losing their jobs, and b) that to be afraid of that possibility is to be easily fooled by something that is just a "tactic."


After seeing the standoff between the union and the district end in the firing of 72 teachers last year, any teachers who are not in secured positions among the membership have a very legitimate reason to worry that they might not escape the axe this year.


But that's not all; the plot thickens. While Deely claims that the district cannot fire the teachers because state law prohibits firing for financial reasons, School Board President Kerry Myers says that it is a real possibility, as Governor Corbett has said publicly that he wants to change the law so that districts can
do just that. All of this is just posturing, however, because a) the PA Dept. of Education gave the district permission to fire the teachers last year, agreeing that it wasn't for financial reasons, but for "alignment" and to improve education, and b) because it would take at least a year for Corbett's changes to go into effect, if they pass the legislature.


What is most dismaying here, is that the district and the union are again taking an aggressive posture toward each other in a time when the taxpayers, teachers and students of our community need most for them to be conciliatory, diplomatic and work together for the common cause of what's going to get our community and our educational system through this recession.


There are glimmers of hope, however, so let's keep our eyes on the ball: last year was a year of no compromises at all, while this year we seem to have both an administration, and a teachers' union, prepared to give up their raises to help make this work. Let's hope that instead of making broad threats of firing hundreds of teachers, or brushing off legitimate fears among teachers as just caving to "scare tactics" that the two sides can come together over the gravity of our current economic situation, and reach a compromise that will save teaching jobs, rather than engaging in a finger-pointing fest after it's too late, and we've turned hundreds more teachers out onto the unemployment rolls.


And let's also keep in mind that there are other places where cuts can be made besides teaching jobs (although teaching jobs, benefits and pensions are by far and wide the greatest portion of the budget). It's time for our district to audit Sodexo and see if they have defrauded us of millions of dollars as they have school districts in New York and New Jersey. There are capital funds that the district can request of the state to have moved back into the general fund. There are extracurricular programs that must take a back seat to basic education when it comes to cutting programs in these difficult times. We have a high school pool with an astronomical heating bill each month not only because of the high ceiling but because the roof was never built with insulation. We need to look at redundancies within the administration, as their salaries and benefits cost taxpayers a lot of money too. And there are other teachers benefits that could be sacrificed to save teaching jobs, like tuition reimbursement for pursuing masters programs. There also continue to be mysterious invoices to D'Huy Engineering whose expenses were never approved by our duly-elected school board, and invoices from the county's Intermediate Unit that have gone unchallenged for years, like the $10,000 training bill to the technology department that was finally resolved (as in, eliminated) this month. There is fat to be cut, and sadly, also bone to be cut--but the fat and waste must go first, before we start firing employees in a district that has already lost 72 teachers, 11 tech people and a couple of literacy coaches and crisis counselors last year.


What do you think should be cut first?

20 comments:

ferebee said...

......what a hot mess. sometimes i think that there is no future.

if this gets much worse, it will become an allentown situation and the state will have to come in. although, maybe the state is a better alternative to the corrupt eastonians?

some guy said...

EVERYONE should take their kids out of the school and enroll them in online charter schools. EASD would be OBLIGATED to pass along our school taxes to the charter school and lose everything and cease to exist.
actual elimination of the school district is the only viable option anymore.

lulu said...

i think some guy has a point. public high school just seems to be bad for everyone involved. charter high schools with more focused studies, more skilled teachers, and no room for the EASD-shit-the-bed-fest would be awesome.

Steve White said...

There is fat to be cut but it won't close the gap. We need to transition gradually to a less labor intensive educational system with additional computerized or media instruction supplemented with lower paid staff to simply answer individual questions from students or show them how to use the computer resources available.
But what do we do in the meantime? There is no way around it. Taxes have to be raised. While most Americans are struggling to make ends meet there are those particularly fortunate few who have been reaping big benefits from low marginal tax rates. Progressive tax rates were designed to assure that those who can afford to pay more, do so. There is no reason why the property taxes that support our schools should not also be progressive. That is, if your home is assessed at $50,000 or less you should be paying a low property tax. If your property is worth $500,000 you should be paying a higher rate. It is time that the wealthy who have been undertaxed for the last thirty years start to pay a fair share for our educational system.

Clem said...

Some Guy ROCKS.

That is all.

tachitup said...

I hope Steve White is not saying that a household earning $200,000 with 3 kids in Easton schools should be paying less than my grandparents who get by on $40,000 but are enjoying the house that they've lovingly improved upon over the last 38 years. They would have to move out of the district. Steve must be saying something different.

noel jones said...

i think Steve's point is that he thinks the $200k/year household should pay higher taxes than your grandparents.

sadly, whether or not someone has kids in the school system does not figure into the taxation system. i wish it did--while i agree that the education of our youth is important to the health and welfare of the entire community--not just those who have kids--i wish we had a rebate program like they do in NY where people without kids get a 50% rebate on the property taxes that go to the school system. that seems more fair. the idea that i pay equal taxes into the school system when i have no kids in the system, and someone else has three kids in school doesn't seem balanced at all...

Anonymous said...

Reminder: Tonight's Board meeting will be held at the Education Center at 6:30 in the board room.

noel jones said...

Thanks, Anon. Here is the link for the full agenda for tonight's board meeting:

http://www.boarddocs.com/pa/easdpa/Board.nsf/Public

Residents have the right to speak up on agenda items during the public comments portion at the beginning of the meeting. Residents can speak up on any other topic during the public comments section at the end of the meeting.

A lot of invoices and contracts being approved tonight, as well as the need for the administration to study where cuts in staff might be needed...

Tablex said...

Sports should be privatized. Parents - go find some corporations to finance your kids extra curricular. Get some of the gas frackers who arent going to have to pay taxes and will exploit our natural resources for their private gain. No reason property owners, who are probably going to lose value of their homes due to fracking should pay for kids extra curricular when they are already paying for their education. Cant we in PA ask corporations to do something??????

Pulad said...

Corporations have destroyed the quality of life in the United States of America. They are why we are obese, ignorant and violent. Yet the Tea Party traitors defend them and give them power.

Clem said...

Pulad said...
"Corporations have destroyed the quality of life in the United States of America. They are why we are obese, ignorant and violent."

They stuff that Big Mac down your throat, son?

noel jones said...

Clem--no one forces anyone to eat a Big Mac, but let's not underestimate the power of years of advertising to children via kiddie meals, clowns, toys, treats, etc...

As for fracking for natural gas, yes, one could say that it is forced down the throats of people as they are led to believe that their tap water is safe to drink (and it is, for years) and then they get sick due to the profit-driven pollution of corporations who could care less. It's cheaper not to use safety measures or dispose of waste water properly, and they are there to make money, they don't care who gets sick or dies from it.

Molly McButter said...

Noel, you're incorrect about how union contracts work. What Deely refers to when he says "rank and file members" is that EVERYONE has a say. As a teacher in the district, I can tell you that he's being very fair. There are about 700 teachers in the district, and they all have a different opinion. Kevin has gone out of his way to make sure we're in the loop and surveyed about our thoughts regarding a freeze (which looks likely) and other concessions. The board and administration haven't given him the info he needs though, and he keeps trying to meet with them and they're ignoring his requests. It's very frustrating. As a new teacher, I'm disheartened. Not because I think I'm getting bulldozed by the union, but because the administration doesn't seem to care about me. It really is a scare tactic - if by threatening to cut another 20% of the staff if you don't agree to take a pay cut and no raises for a couple years isn't a threat, I don't know what is. Anyway, just so you know, any change in our contract requires it to be approved by both the teachers and the board (not just the union leaders). The teachers don't want the Blunt guy's offer, but want to do something. I think the administration needs to find something to cut other than my salary. I make about $45k and am working on my Masters. I'll take a cut. If McGinley would take the same kind of cut, I'd appreciate it. She makes 4x what I do.

My colleagues and I work really hard and earn every cent we make. I'll gladly take a freeze - as will most of us. Please don't trivialize our sacrifice because it's "not enough" to you. We have lots of loans to pay off, property taxes and mortgages to pay, too.

noel jones said...

Thanks, for the post, Molly, but nobody is trivializing the role of teachers in our community, just saying that the money is simply not there. Promises have been made that can't be kept. 70% of the budget is salaries, benefits and pensions for employees. The administrators have agreed to a wage-freeze. We are hoping the union will do the same, but at present, Deely is saying that teachers won't agree to a wage-freeze unless no jobs are cut at all. If that is what the union wants, then the union needs to come up with the $5.6 million in non-teacher budget cuts that it would take to be able to do that. That's a big gap.

Yes, teachers have mortgages to pay too, and I'm glad to hear that you are able to pursue your masters. But it's important to remember that the district has no money of its own--only the money of taxpayers--many of whom do have not had jobs for a while in this economy, and many who are seniors on fixed incomes--who also have mortgages to pay and cannot afford to pursue their masters. So you are essentially a person with a good job and benefits asking people who may or may not have jobs, and may or may not have health insurance, to pay your mortgage before their own. You have to understand that for the unions to continue to have the support of the community at large, the union must respect the plight of the taxpayers in this economy--otherwise, if public support turns, the stage is set for union-busting, and that's a scary thought...

Molly McButter said...

Noel,

Why does "the union" need to come up with every cent of the districts budget gap? Don't you realize that the budget projection is based on a false assumption? If we "only" took a wage freeze it would save the taxpayers $7.4 million. Last year we offered $5 million in concessions that were ignored, and the district only saved $2 million or so by firing 72 staffers. Plus, they need to pay for unemployment costs for all the teachers they let go, which I hear is 55% of their salary. If we take a wage freeze, and 20 teachers retire, that's another $2 million in savings to the district. So, wage freeze + retirement = teachers costing LESS next year than they do right now.

By the way - our teachers are very much affected by the economic downturn, too! Many of my colleagues are the only income source for their families. The girl down the hall from me is pregnant, the only income source for her family, and has two little kids at home. For her to take a freeze and a cut, means that she won't be able to provide for her family. Hopefully her husband can find a job when she goes on leave. We are all disheartened and demoralized. All we do, day in and day out, is work to better educate our kids with less, and despite it all, we continue to be attacked. We are teachers! We aren't bankers or real estate brokers! We get paid a living wage, and do a very important job. If the state taxed Marcellus Shale extraction and closed the Delaware loophole, PA would have a much smaller defeceit than they do right now. Instead of that, you and others, attack other middle class workers. I pay taxes - and I'll never see Social Security when I retire. Plus, with the gambling revenues, we all got a tax cut last year.

Finally, doesn't EASD have a budget surplus of $24 million? How can they talk about a lack of taxpayer funds and a budget gap of millons, when they have a huge savings account? If the teachers give up $10 million, shouldn't McGinley and company cut more from their own? How about pay-to-play? Why is athletics a sacred cow? I'm tired of my job being the scapegoat for everything wrong in society! I'm a teacher, not a criminal!

noel jones said...

Molly--thanks for posting again--I know this is an emotional topic, but let's please stick to our points and not falsely accuse each other:

You said:

"All we do, day in and day out, is work to better educate our kids with less, and despite it all, we continue to be attacked. We are teachers! We aren't bankers or real estate brokers!"

No one that I know of is "attacking teachers," in fact, most taxpayers I have talked with feel that they are defending teachers from getting fired again like last year. All we are asking for is a side-by-side sacrifice on all sides. The idea of "attacking teachers" is negative propaganda thrown out by the union to make teachers feel that non-teacher taxpayers are against them. It is a lie being perpetuated in the emotional theater of the administrators vs. the union vs. the taxpayer. Please do not fall for it. Everyone I have talked to values teachers contribution to society greatly.

You are also absolutely right to point out that teachers are not bankers--which is actually a more general point that it is Wall Street bankers that have fleeced our economy and put pressure on our ever-shrinking middle-class, which has unfortunately turned into working class people fighting amongst themselves. Everyone should watch the documentary "Inside Job" on Netflix and then scream at our national officials to put the men responsible in jail, rather than leaving them free to continue to fleece us (or work in our white house) and collect massive annual bonuses and profits on side-by-side investing with their firms.

You also said:

"If the state taxed Marcellus Shale extraction and closed the Delaware loophole, PA would have a much smaller defeceit than they do right now. Instead of that, you and others, attack other middle class workers."

This is a very dangerous suggestion, as it buys into the gold rush mentality that we can make up for wasteful spending and unfunded promises over the past decades by skimming off the profits of natural gas drillers when all indications show that the process might well destroy our ability to drink free clean water out of our taps forever. I refuse to get sucked into the duality that carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors and radioactive material in my water is ok as long as the state is making money off of it. There is no amount of money that makes it ok with me to set me to be set up for a long slow painful death--or a life of rationing bottled water for cooking, cleaning, bathing with and drinking to the tune of hundreds of dollars each month, while my property value is destroyed as well. The severance tax is not a cure-all for irresponsible spending, and unfortunately we have been kicking the can down the road for years, and it's time to pay the piper.

(cont.)

noel jones said...

(cont.)

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by the "Delaware Loophole"--I think you mean the Halliburton Loophole, but if there's another loophole we should know about, please let us know.

You said further:
"Finally, doesn't EASD have a budget surplus of $24 million? How can they talk about a lack of taxpayer funds and a budget gap of millons, when they have a huge savings account? If the teachers give up $10 million, shouldn't McGinley and company cut more from their own? How about pay-to-play? Why is athletics a sacred cow? I'm tired of my job being the scapegoat for everything wrong in society!"

I think when you say "surplus" you are referring to the current reserve fund. Not sure what the current total is (if anyone knows for sure, please post a link to back it up) but I know that the district dipped into that last year, and that the budget crisis is only getting worse each year through 2014 as higher and higher pension debt comes due. Using the surplus might cover this year, but the district would just have to fire a bunch of people next year, so we need to give some very careful thought and sacrifice to solving this problem.

Also, the teachers and the administrators are not equal monetarily, so administrators cannot give up millions to the budget. There are waaaaaaaay more teachers in the district than administrators--for example, administrators giving up their raises = $88K, while teachers giving up their raises = well over $5 million.

The administrators have already agreed to a wage freeze this year. It's time for the teachers to do the same.

As for the sacred cow of sports in Easton--we are in 100% agreement. I think we should be looking at pay-to-play.

tachitup said...

Ooh, good discussion here.
It seems that (insert blogger name here) has established a decidedly fiscal conservative stance. I applaud that.
Molly has put forth the straight union line; very Deelyesque. Molly, no one is attacking teachers; quit playing the poor victim. When so many in the private sector, including unions, have had wages cut or eliminated why do teachers deserve more money? Because they have kids and mortgages? Hey, so do I. Teachers work hard and receive a decent wage. Suck it up and move on; we are all suffering to some degree.
The average teacher raise this year is over 12%; range is 1-36%. My raise was a huge negative number.
I do have to give the union credit for getting the current contract from an inept school board and substitute administration.

Molly McButter said...

Noel,

Sorry for the delayed response. We both certainly have our points of view on this issue, and though we may disagree, I value the discourse.

In regards to "The Delaware Loophole" - it's a loophole in the PA Tax Code that allows corporations who are incorporated in Delaware to get out of paying corporate income tax in PA. We're talking tens of millions of dollars in revenue lost to PA.

There's another thing - sales tax. We all pay 6% sales tax in PA. Did you know that only 5% is sent to the state? Due to an antiquated law, companies are allowed to keep 1% of sales tax just for collecting it and sending it to the state on time. How frustrating! Can you imagine how many millions Walmart saves a year on that scheme? If that 1% was collected and spent on jobs, we'd all be in a better position!