Board Approves Collective Bargaining Agreement

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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.

22 thoughts on “Board Approves Collective Bargaining Agreement

  1. I have a problem paying teachers that teach common (crap) core were 2+2 can equal 5. A history class that teaches nothing about american history and the bill of rights.

    • I do understand. The feedback I was getting from people is they did not want a contract that added to our budget and increased our deficits, but they did not want to risk a strike more, which is what we would have happened if the Board held out. So, what we got, was the best deal we could get without making this a long and painful process. In its own way, this all really is the district’s version of the debt limit/shut down the government debate.

    • 5+5+5=15 IS WRONG, ACCORDING TO COMMON CORE
      Parents outraged after student penalized for correctly answering math questions

      by MIKAEL THALEN | INFOWARS.COM | OCTOBER 27, 2015
      2151500
      A Common Core math assignment posted online last week is causing outrage among parents who say their child was penalized for correctly answering a question.

      Imgur / Cloakenn

      A photo of the math quiz, uploaded to Imgur, shows how an unknown third-grade student received negative marks after allegedly failing to properly articulate how he correctly solved the question 5×3.

      “The first question asks the student to use repeated addition to solve the question 5×3. The student answers 5+5+5=15, but is marked incorrect,” notes the Daily Mail. “Instead, the teacher writes that the correct answer should have been 3+3+3+3+3=15.”

      The assignment’s second question, which similarly asks the student to use “repeated addition” to solve 4×6, is also marked wrong despite being correct.

      “In the second question, students are asked draw an array to solve 4×6,” the Daily Mail adds. “The student draws six rows of four and is again marked wrong, with the teacher drawing four rows of six as the correct answer.”

      Commenters on the photo, including several who claimed to be teachers in training, were outraged alongside the young student’s parents.

      “People are realizing that this method of intentional confusion is testing folks’ sensitivity to the fact that the entire system is imploding,” one commenter said.

      “As a future teacher, this shit pisses me off,” another added.

      Such assignments have become increasingly unpopular with each passing year as schoolchildren are forced to exchange common sense for Common Core.

      The controversial standards became well known in 2013 after a math teacher argued that wrong answers would be correct if students were able to explain why they provided an incorrect response.
      To all who have no clue of what your children are being taught , you need to do your own homework.

  2. It has already been a long and drawn out process hasn’t it? Glad to see it finally resolved so everyone can move on. It appears to be a fair deal both ways. Thanks.

    • I get your point. Here is how I looked at it. Things like the armed security officer and the track represent the will of a small, vocal, and very active few. I did not believe the spending those cases represented the will of the majority, and I voted against them. In the case of the teacher’s agreement, this may not be the contract most wanted or want to pay for, but the impression I got was people wanted a teacher strike even less. I’m not afraid to vigorously argue against and be the lone dissenting vote if I believe it is in the best interest of the community, but in this case the best interest of the community was at odds with itself. Almost everyone I spoke to wanted both a budget neutral contract but also wanted there to be no teacher strike. This was the best comprise.

  3. Tony Soprano and his ‘goodfella’ buddies in the ‘waste management’ business couldn’t hold a candle to this country’s teachers unions when it comes to shakedowns and a protection racket. (Hey, nice little school district you’ve got there…it would be a shame if something bad, like a crippling teacher strike, happened. So just let we teachers dip our beaks, gain our annual increases in pay and benefits and/or in more favorable work conditions — regardless of merit — and we can promise you labor peace.)

    The difference is that once Tony and company strong-armed their way into a contract, they largely delivered on their promises. They picked up the trash on schedule. Can anyone say that ever-increasing salaries and perks for teachers have had a similar effect? Is not the truth that today’s students perform less well than the several generations that preceded them?

    It’s all very complicated, I know, very, very complicated. But one thing seems simple and clear: this country’s teachers unions hold inordinate, indecent sway over the body politic, whether at the national or local level. And it’s largely about self-interest, no matter how much the teachers swear that it’s all about the kids.

    The leaders of the teachers unions, and all the hundreds of thousands of members who dutifully fork over their union dues, know that in the end they have got us by the short hairs.

  4. Martin Walker’s comment at the beginning of this thread may have been a bit too simplistic, but he has a valid point.

    Under Common Core the teaching of math is becoming muddled. It is straying away from the tried and true, strict rules of math with which most of us, and a great many generations before us, grew up. And as Martin Walker suggests, and to the best of my knowledge, Common Core math does not necessarily require a precise, correct answer to whatever the math problem may be. The teaching of Common Core math factors in, allows for, gives consideration to the student’s thought process, whether or not the student arrived at the correct answer. (If I’m still around in 25 years, remind me not to drive over any bridges whose engineers’ foundation in math was Common Core math, where close is good enough.)

    Mr. Walker, I believe, is also fundamentally correct in his suggestion that under Common Core there is a de-emphasis on students reading, for example, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a means of learning not just history, but also as a prime example of the power of pen, how just a few hundred words can have weighty implications that echo to this day. Instead, to the best of my knowledge, Common Core has high school students reading, and being tested for comprehension, on such things as appliance service contracts — the theory apparently being that the latter is, and will be, more relevant to students’ lives than the words that Abe spoke at Gettysburg. I don’t know. Maybe so. Only time will tell. But I fear that when a country’s young people lose touch with their history and heritage — when they incessantly have their eyes focused on tiny little screens playing video games, or checking in with Facebook, Twitter, whatever — that we are losing them, that they are pulling away from the fabric of America.

    But back to Common Core. I believe I was the first person on this website to mention the term, and that was three or four years ago. And it was due to the fact that Tim Alexander, before he was a board member, had asked me to attend in his absence, and report on, a particular OASD board meeting. Neither of us knew beforehand that suddenly, out of the blue, this unexpected, strange new thing called Common Core would be sprung upon us.

    I dutifully reported to Tim’s blog/website the proceedings of that particular board meeting, and especially about this strange new thing called Common Core. And having had my interest and curiosity piqued, I Googled and otherwise started looking into Common Core. Soon thereafter I posted several lengthy follow-up comments on this website trying to explain the genesis of Common Core, the players, their motivations, and trying to connect all the dots to show that Common Core was, essentially, a shake-down by the federal government on the states; i.e., you adopt Common Core and federal funds will flow your way, but if not, sorry, Charlie. Since then I have spent a minimum of a hundred hours, probably several hundred hours, reading about Common Core — from all sorts of sources and from all points of view. I have also taken pains to question my two grandsons about what, precisely, they are learning in school these days. In the end, the jury is still out on Common Core. Only time will tell if Common Core is a revelation or an abomination. (Unfortunately, our children are the guinea pigs.)

    But to all those who are quick to dismiss the skepticism and cynicism of people like Martin Walker and me, and especially to those bleeding-heart moms who don’t care a whit about the financial condition of the school district just so long as little Johnny or Jane get the best possible education possible, wake the hell up. We taxpayers have no moral obligation to coddle your dreams. We, many of us, are struggling just to get by.

    And before any of you cavalierly turn thumbs up or down on any particular post or comment, take a moment to ask if you really know what you are talking about. Have you researched and really considered the pros and cons of the issue? Or are you just spouting off like a drunken Eagles fan at a bar?

    It’s simple and easy. Just go to Google.com and search ‘Common Core.’ You will find endless hits, tens of thousands of references. But don’t let that dissuade you. Just read, or even just browse the first two or three pages of your Google search. And if you can’t do that little then you have no standing to sound off on anything having to do with Common Core. So you should just shut the hell up, because you are a patent ignoramus.

    • Mr Vail, you obviously know the “power of the pen” one might say , too much. Interesting that you chose the Gettysburg Address a brief yet powerful example of the written and spoken word. Perhaps there is a lesson in there for you as well. Perhaps our educational system is faltering at the local and national levels( at least using standardization tests scores as a guide) because of a cultural difference on the importance of education within ones family and community. I had the chance to speak with a teacher at the recent conferences and she told me only 5 of her students were represented by a parent or guardian in her kindergarten class. Another example, and I will use words from your own pen, “especially those bleeding heart moms who don’t care a whit about the financial condition of the school district just so long as little Johnny or Jane get the best possible education possible, wake the hell up. We the taxpayers have no moral obligation to coddle your dream” . Folks, let that sink in. That is from a well spoken, obviously educated man. Presently ,and fortunately , you do have a legal obligation to coddle their dream.As a nation we need to put a greater emphasis on educating our children or we will never break the cycle of indifference. I hope this had fewer words than the Gettysburg Address!

      • This is yet more evidence for the reason to remove your kids from the public indoctrination centers called public school and demand that your representatives abolish the federal Department of Education. A Chinese immigrant mother of three testified before the Colorado State Board of Education that what is being passed off as Common Core is actually the same Communist indoctrination that she experienced as a child in Communist China.

        Lily Tang Williams, told the board, “Common Core, in my eyes, is the same as the Communist core I once saw in China. I grew up under Mao’s regime and we had the Communist-dominated education — nationalized testing, nationalized curriculum, and nationalized indoctrination.”

        Read more at http://freedomoutpost.com/2015/10/chinese-immigrant-mother-common-core-is-same-communist-core-i-saw-in-china/#mAfGmDxl0JW21YQC.99

  5. Wow! I come to your blog Tim to get a fuller picture of the School Board meetings that I can no longer attend and I am grateful for the fleshing out of meetings that you do, and for The Cube. Unfortunately whenever I read the comments I just get frustrated. So much anger and lashing out at everyone and everything. No wonder this district has so many problems, this community doesn’t act like a community. This hatred of schools, the teachers that work to educate, the families that send or at one time sent their children here, and the hatred of the school board. It is depressing. I hope your commentors don’t reflect the broader swath of people that live here.

    • Thank you for your comments.

      I don’t perceive the majority of feedback expressed on this site as hatred towards teachers, families, schools, or even the school board. I perceive it all as frustration in a system of government that is suppose to work a certain way, and doesn’t, and maybe also a deep dislike (hate is such a strong word) toward public unions who act like the answer to everything is just raising taxes.

      The school board’s responsibility is to work in the best interest of all students, and the whole community. What many people in the community see is that the teachers union gets what they want (debatable, I know), the boosters and other special interests get what they want (also debatable), but the community is left paying high taxes for a district that can be described as average at best.

      The average teacher at Octorara is paid an above average salary compared to national, state, and even Chester County teachers. Our average cost per student is similarly above average. However, our academic achievement and performance is just about average nationally and statewide, and significantly below average compared to other Chester County school districts.

      So, we do have people who are angry, especially if those people are part of those in the working and middle class, and who are worse off than they were 7 years ago, through no fault of their own. Also, think about people on Social Security, which includes not only retirees, but people who have become disabled, widows, and children who have lost a parent. It was announced last week, those people will not receive a cost of living increase this year. This is only the 3rd time in the history of the program there will not be an increase, and each of those times was under this Administration.

      So, we have a very large population of people who are not doing as well as they were, but they see the district spending in areas that maybe they could do without. The iPad program is a perfect example.

      The iPad program was started in the 2013-2014 school year. That year ended with a $150K deficit. If there was no iPad program, there would have been no deficit. Added to that, the armed security officer was added for the 2014-2015 school year. The final numbers look to show we will have a $250K deficit for that year. If there was no iPads and no armed security, there would have been no deficit.

      Now, we have a new teachers’ contract that will add almost $1 Million to our costs, and add the approval to spend money upgrading the track, with the Board having no firm idea how we are going to pay for any of it outside of either raising taxes beyond the Act 1 limit or cutting teachers… neither of which are acceptable to many. You can start to understand why some people are frustrated and angry.

      • You miss my point. I have occasionally brought up those same issues but what is done is done and where are the problem solvers? Nowhere and the anger gets worse and worse. I wish someone could say “Let’s try this” or let’s work from this point on…” Somehow these issues need attention, it’s not the teachers fault that some school board members thought it was a good idea to give teachers a higher staring salary but all the anger is focus on teachers.
        Lashing out is cathartic but it doesn’t solve the serious problems we have. The vitriolic mood makes me, as a community member, feel that I could not work with people whose opinion I might agree with.
        I live here, I have children in school, I am one of those people that shoulder the high taxes and wonder how I will ever sell my house. But these comment threads don’t give me hope.

      • I agree with much of what you have to say here. However, there are two points I would like to make. The first is with the district needing ideas and problem solvers. It is true, but what I have seen, both before being on the Board and as a member, is that a significant number of members do not really place much weight behind those who are not active and engaged in continuous lobbying. Most of the people who comment on this blog have attended meetings. Some have been brave enough to speak up at meetings. What they have not done is gotten together, organized, and had continuous representation attending and speaking out at meetings. Personally, I think it is ridiculous that is what needs to be done, but that is the way things are.

        Second, your comment “it’s not the teachers fault that some school board members thought it was a good idea to give teachers a higher staring salary” seems to imply that Board members arbitrarily decided to give teachers pay increase. The pay increases are the result of a collective bargaining agreement, which took 22 months of negotiations between the Board and the teachers’ union. If the Board held out for a better deal, conditions would have diminished and the teachers’ union would have used everything in their toolbox to pressure the Board to get what they wanted. Sure, Board members made a choice by accepting this contract, but it was not just because they thought it was a good idea to hand out pay raises.

  6. It needs to be restated and remembered, drilled into the mind of every taxpayer: the last time I did the simple math to calculate the average annual cost-per-student in the OASD, which was about two years ago, the answer was about $18,000. I’m sure the cost has only gone up since then.

    You can do this at home. Just go to the school district’s website and ferret out the current year’s total budget. Then simply divide by total student enrollment. The answer will give you the cost per student. Simple as that.

    But let’s think about this, and try to put in perspective:

    – Average annual cost for pre-schoolers: $18,000 plus.

    – Average annual cost for kindergartners: $18,000 plus.

    – Average annual cost for elementary students: $18,000 plus.

    – Average annual cost for middle-school students: $18,000 plus.

    – Average annual cost for high-school students: $18,000 plus.

    And yet, a Pennsylvania resident can send their college-age student to Penn State or any number of other state-supported colleges and universities for less money than what we pay per student in the OASD.

    Further, there are plenty of colleges and universities throughout the U.S. whose average annual cost per student is less than the per-student cost in the OASD, and in many cases that includes not just tuition, but as well room, board, and books.

    The late, great New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that everybody was entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.

    I submit that on the basis of fact the OASD, and the OASD Board, have comparatively little to be proud of, and much that — if they were somehow able to disengage their egos — they might want to reconsider. In any event, there is no cause for any of them to be taking a victory lap on the newly-resurfaced or soon-to-be-resurfaced track, whose cost (a quarter-million dollars) is just one of many items that are throwing the budget into deficit, and threatening the economic viability of this place we call home. How much longer can current residents cope with sky-high school district taxes? How much longer can our real estate market survive when nobody in their right mind, especially parents of young children, wants to move into a school district where the taxes are onerous, and the quality of the public school education system is marginal at best?

    I can’t now recall if it was Moynihan, but somebody once also observed that “facts are stubborn things.” All of us would do well to remember that, especially when writing on public forums. Because, as somebody else once noted, opinions are like anal orifices: everybody’s got one.

    Before you speak, read and research. Be sure you know what you are talking about.

  7. Brant, I said that there were plenty of colleges and universities “throughout the U.S.” where the cost of tuition, room, board, and books is less than the per-student cost in the OASD. And there are.

    And I said that “a Pennsylvania resident can ‘send’ their college-age student to Penn State or any number of other state-supported colleges and universities for less money than what we pay per student in the OASD.” In the latter case I did not include room, board and books.

    In either case, won’t you grant the larger point, that the OASD cost per student is high, very high?

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