On Monday, the Octorara Area School Board of Directors unanimously approved the collective bargaining agreement by and between the Octorara School District and the Octorara Education Association, PSEA/NEA, for the term of July 1, 2014 and effective until June 30, 2018. Immediately after the vote, Adam Udell, the Association representative, announced to the Board and the public that the Association voted if favor of ratifying the agreement.
The District will be posting a joint press release on our website today, with more detailed information. However, briefly, the new contract calls for teachers to receive a one time payment of $750 for the 2014-15 year, plus $450 added to each step and level plus movement for seniority in 2015-16, $500.00 in 2016-17, and $500.00 in 2017-18. The Support Staff will receive a 2.6% increase each year.
Savings was found in changes in the medical plan, reducing costs and increasing co-pays, and the addition of deductibles. Changes to the prescription plan will reduce costs by instituting limits and exclusions of some prescriptions, and instituting a generic step therapy provision and increasing the brand name co-pay.
This is not the agree I wanted. Ultimately, my decision to vote in favor of the deal came down to the idea of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. A more perfect deal would have been one that was budget neutral, while this agreement will add almost $1 Million over the life of the contract. However, the average salary increase is well below the average salary increase across Chester County as a whole, and changes to the medical and prescription plans are major steps forward. At the end of the day, I do believe this was the best deal that could be achieved without causing things to escalate.
Now, I am sure, the question on everyone’s mind is, “How are we going to pay for additional cost?” Fact is, we don’t know. Since August, the Fiancee Committee has been tackling the issue of the new budget, and how to deal with the growing deficits, which the new contract will only increase. Up until this week, everything kept coming back to two options, either take exemptions and raise taxes beyond the Act 1 limit or cut staffing with the possibility of eliminating some programs.
At Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, we began discussions with Joe Antonio and Preston McKnight of the Leadership Consultancy Consortium. The consulting group presented a business consulting proposal to the committee. Their area of expertise is applying business practices, long established and used in the private sector, to school districts. One of their main goals is to reduce operating costs without impacting services or performance. The group also finds ways of reducing costs by addressing the issue of “outsourced students” and optimizing vendor contracts, and increasing revenue using alternative sources.
How much savings and additional revenue is possible is anyone’s guess. We don’t know, what we don’t know. Finding out what the consulting group can actually do for us would require authorizing them to complete a full audit of the district, and the committee has not yet made a decision to go forward. Every organization has room to improve, and having new eyes, from outside the district looking at our systems,has benefit—even if what they find is that district has no room to optimize.
Overall, if we do move forward with the consulting group, it should not be seen as a magic bullet. They have a limited and narrow scope, and address only very specific issues.They would be one more tool in the toolbox.