Baldwin-Whitehall Officials Reject Teachers Union's Offer
Union claims that an opportunity to save $1.5 million was lost. Superintendent says that there's more to the story.
In what a news release from The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) called "a surprising move," the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board did not address a labor proposal from the Baldwin-Whitehall Education Association (teachers union) at a board meeting on Wednesday night.
The release claims that the proposal—an adjustment to the B-W School District's current work contract with its teachers—would have saved the district $1.5 million over the next five years.
"Not only do we have a governor who obviously does not value public education," PSEA spokesman Butch Santicola said in the release, "we apparently have a (B-W) Board of Education who doesn't get the big picture.
"The Baldwin-Whitehall School Board just thumbed their noses not only at their teachers, who offered a genuine and generous contribution to the district; they also thumbed their noses at the taxpaying residents of Baldwin-Whitehall and the students of the district."
In an email exchange, Santicola said that the $1.5 million represent a savings in salary concessions made by the teachers union.
But B-W Superintendent Dr. Randal A. Lutz said in an interview with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch that the $1.5 million is a generous estimate. Lutz also said that it is "without merit" to say that the school board's members "thumbed their noses" at the district.
Lutz explained that the union offered to stretch its current contract out an additional two years from its expiration date—the end of the 2014-15 school year.
"The same amount of money that they would have gotten in six years they wanted to push out to eight years," he said, acknowledging that doing so would result in some savings.
As the PSEA's release explains, "Earlier (this) summer, the school district approached the Baldwin-Whitehall Education Association (BWEA) and asked its leadership to consider negotiating some cost-saving measures to assist the district in fending off a potential budget crisis in the near future.
"The current teachers contract with the Baldwin-Whitehall School District does not expire until June 30, 2015, so the teachers union had no obligation to negotiate or even discuss any cost-savings measures with the district. However, because the BWEA was concerned about the quality of education for their students, in light of the massive funding cuts Gov. (Tom) Corbett has engineered in public education, the union voluntarily agreed to negotiations with the district."
Lutz acknowledged the union's willingness to negotiate, but he said that, because of a number of unpredictable variables, "it's still not $1.5 million."
Lutz also said that the union's "demands for return of such investment" were too great for the school board to accept, such as a no-furlough clause for two school years, starting immediately.
"So, regardless of what would have happened with enrollment," Lutz said, "or if state funding would totally change—or even federal funding—we would have no ability to change any levels of staffing consistent with enrollment or consistent with unforeseen circumstances. And that was a concern."
He also said that extending the current life of the teachers contract, even at a bargain, was too risky.
"Pretty much any district locally, or even any advice from the state levels, are to really try to avoid long-term contracts," Lutz said. "The economic futures are too unpredictable. There's not a lot of clarity as to what's coming down the road.
"So, while the contract would lock in some costs and make those costs predictable, our revenues aren't predictable. That was a concern, especially for the fact there was a no-furlough clause."
He also said that the union's proposal does not adjust employees' benefits contributions.
As for why he feels that the union's $1.5-million-savings estimate is too great, Lutz said, "They're comparing the costs associated with what we already know (today) with what we don't know (in the future).
"In 2015, we get to enter into the negotiation process again, and in that negotiation process, basically, everything's on the table. So, they're comparing years that don't yet exist and saying that there's cost-savings on details that we don't yet know."
Lutz confirmed again that, should the district's enrollment and funding numbers remain the same as they are today, the union's proposal would save the district money in the long run. However, he said, accepting a no-furlough clause and a benefits-contribution freeze was deemed by the school board to be too risky.
"The board acted in what they believed was a very responsible manner," he said.
In general, Lutz seemed irritated with the union's press release, pointing out that district administrators and service employees both recently agreed to wage freezes without "strings attached" to their agreements—unlike the teachers.
"Did they (members of those groups) like it? Absolutely not," Lutz said. "But they did it."
Still, for a teachers union that believed that it was acting in the best interests of its students, accepting the board's inaction is a tough pill to swallow.
"Our priority as teachers is ensuring that our students receive the best education possible," BWEA President Rebecca Wolf said in the release. "Unfortunately, with the huge funding cuts Gov. Corbett has imposed on the Baldwin-Whitehall School District and other districts throughout Pennsylvania, our union and the district administration were both concerned about being able to maintain the level of excellence in public education Baldwin-Whitehall residents have come to expect from us.
"Our teachers were excited about making a financial investment for our students' future."
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