● Published by J. Chambless
The testy battle of words that's being waged over teacher contract negotiations in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District heated up on March 23 as the district issued its "reasons for going public" on its website.
The issue began on March 13, when members of the district's negotiating team invited local press to a conference, at which they revealed the state of negotiations between the administration and teachers over a three-year contract.
Gregg Lindner, a member of the negotiating team, announced that the teachers union is currently proposing a 5.01 percent increase in total compensation (salary plus benefits) each year over their next three-year contract, while the district is putting forward a 2.08 percent proposal each year over three years.
The district's guidelines, Lindner said, are arriving at a fair compensation and benefits package to keep recruiting top teachers, and making sure that the agreement doesn't force consideration of program cuts or raising class sizes.
“With an Act 1 limit on tax increases of 1.9 percent this year, we either need to limit these benefit expense increases, or limit wage increases,” he said. “We cannot afford both a wage increase and maintaining current benefits.”
At a March 16 meeting of the school board, Scott Broomall, the president of the Unionville Chadds Ford Education Association, heatedly told the board and administration, "I was surprised when the district went public with three and a half months before our contract expires, and more importantly, decided to do it at 10:30 a.m. on a school day. After the press conference concluded, there were messages on my cell phone, there was a call from the office, interrupting my class, asking if I could take a phone call. I appreciate that reporters reached out to get our side of the story, but I am teaching during the day. I fault the board, because if they had given more thought to when they were doing the press conference, and truly cared about instruction in the classroom, maybe they would have held it at a different time.
"I've been through three [contract] negotiations," Broomall continued. "Being three percent apart with three-plus months to go is normal for negotiations. This maneuver by the district has done nothing more than make the process more contentious. I'm not sure what the ultimate goal of the board was in going public, but it certainly was not to work with us to reach a settlement. You have demonized us. You have been selective in the information you present, and you attack the very professionalism that makes this a premier school district."
On March 23, the board posted on its website a comment regarding their recent actions.
"There are two reasons why the board chose to go public," the posting read. "One, the practice of this board has always been to conduct business in an open, honest and transparent manner. The board wants all of the teachers and members of the community to understand the issues surrounding the contract.
"Two, the teacher contract drives about half, and influences another 20 percent, of the district's expenses. The current negotiations will have a strong influence on the budget for the next three years. It is important to give the public information and a voice in a process that will affect their tax bills over the next three years and beyond. ... Going public is commonplace and has happened in other negotiations in Chester County. The union leadership requested a delay in public notification and the board honored that request."
The March 23 posting continued, "In the spirit of cooperation, not only did the board honor the request for delaying several times, it also provided the union leadership with a copy of the document being considered for release to the public. Changes were made to the document based on the union leadership's input. The board views this as an open and respectful way to approach the process. The board appreciates the teachers in the district and agrees with the union leadership that we are fortunate to be part of a premier school district and that teachers are at the heart of our success.
"It was also asserted that the board is being selective with information disclosed," the posting stated. "The board approaches this conversation with a willingness to engage all stakeholders and answer all questions. The initial public presentation and union leadership’s response provide a platform for further dialogue and information sharing."
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.