U-CF reaches contract agreement with teachers
By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
At a special meeting on Sept. 8, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board approved the results of a fact-finder's report, effectively launching a new four-year contract with the district's teachers.
The vote, which came down to 8-1, was the culmination of a process that started in January, and which has persevered through months of impasse between the district and the teachers' union, chiefly regarding salaries and benefits. The sticking points never became visible in picket lines or angry statements between the two sides, and board president Vic Dupuis praised both the negotiating team and the teachers for never allowing hard feelings to be shown to students in the classrooms, where learning got started on time and has continued uninterrupted during the talks.
A few dozen people were in the Unionville High School auditorium for the formal board presentations and the final vote, and there was a round of applause as the report passed with one dissenting vote from board member Keith Knauss.
The members of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association (UCFEA) had approved the fact-finder's report the previous week, but the public was not aware of how the board would vote until the Sept. 8 meeting.
Every board member referred to the report as “a good compromise” that they were willing to accept, except for Knauss, who pointed out that the 2.8 percent increase in salaries for each of the next four years was too much. “We are a destination district for teachers in Pennsylvania,” Knauss said in his formal presentation to the board and the audience. Saying that the district's high rate of teacher retention showed that “teachers are saying the current compensation is adequate,” Knauss said the 2.8 percent annual increases for teachers, to come out of local real estate taxes, would average out to something like 4.6 percent per year when both salaries and benefits are taken into account. He also pointed out that other district employees will be looking at the teacher pay increase and wondering why they didn't get a similar raise.
“It gives me heartburn to think that we might have put ourselves in a situation where we will face furloughs, increased class sizes, or even layoffs if we can't raise enough money,” Knauss said. “I wouldn't characterize a 4.6 percent raise as modest.”
In summary, Knauss said, he felt that the 2.8 percent increase was “unnecessary, and risky for teachers and students,” and that he would be voting against it.
Board member Jeff Hellrung presented statistics that tracked the district's history of budget change from 1982 to 2007, when the increases averaged 8.2 percent per year, and then looked at the numbers for 2007 to 2015, when the increases dropped to 2.7 percent a year on average under the Act 1 Index restrictions.
“Wages and benefits make up 72 percent of our annual budget,” Hellrung said. In the final accounting, about 14 percent of the district's annual budget actually pays for students, “so that's not fluff,” he said.
The negotiation process “is not about 'doing the right thing,' or finding ourselves on 'a slippery slope to ruin,'” Hellrung said. “Of course we respect our teachers and respect their dignity and their work.” The fact-finder's report, he said, “is a reasonable compromise that allows us to sustain our educational programming for our community,” and that he would be voting yes.
Board member Michael Rock pointed out that when a 2.8 percent increase is balanced against an inflation rate of around 1 percent, “the real increase is about 1.8 percent.” The report, he said, “proposes, 'Hey folks, you're going a good job. Let's do more of the same.'”
Each board member got a chance to talk, and they each thanked the district's negotiating team – Knauss, Gregg Lindner and Dupuis – for their months of work. They also unanimously echoed a sentiment to move forward now that a contract is assured for the next four years.
“On the balance,” said board member Robert Sage, “the fact-finder's recommendations are acceptable. Let's remember that we're all on the same team, and I encourage our community to redirect our attention back to the welfare of our students.”
Board member Kathleen Do noted that, “I found this report to be thorough, balanced and measured. We needed a contract that demonstrates that our teachers have done an outstanding job.”
Lindner, who was part of each negotiation session, said, “There are no villains on either side of this issue. The contract is a compromise. Some points will be to your liking, some you might wish were different. Keith [Knauss] and I disagreed sometimes on which path to take, but we agreed on the numbers,” Lindner said. “We hopefully have this issue behind us after tonight.”
In his summation before the final vote, Dupuis said, “I am elated that the Education Association has chosen to approve this, and that we have as well.”
The details of the contract, and the board meeting video, are available online at www.ucfsd.org.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.