Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Pottsgrove OKs Early Bird 3-Year Pact With Teachers

Photos by Evan Brandt

BALANCING ACT: From left, Pottsgrove School Board members Scott Hutt, Brenna Mayberry, Al Leach and Savannah Lear are coached by 3rd grader Lily Sainger-Hauck ("almost 9") in a cooperative exercise that encouraged cooperation, coordination and collaboration. 

The task was to build a pyramid of cups using only four strings tied to a rubber band.

At right, before the school board gave it a shot, West Pottsgrove students demonstrated for the board how it's done.

With a 7-1 vote Tuesday night, the Pottsgrove School Board approved an early bird contract with the teachers association that will add nearly $2 million to the district's payroll over the next three years.

Patricia Grimm was absent and board member Bill Parker cast the only vote against the contract.

Megan DeLena, president of the Pottsgrove Education Association, said her membership approved the pact Monday night by "an overwhelming" majority.

DeLena said the contract re-structures the salary scale with a goal of raising the salary of starting teachers.

"That will make our district more competitive in keeping younger teachers here with other, larger school districts paying much higher salaries," said School Board Vice President Al Leach.

The salary re-structuring means different teachers in different steps in the salary scales will receive different raises, so the most accurate way to describe the financial impact is the additional money is how much it will add to the payroll.

Although he did not have the exact numbers at hand, Superintendent William Shirk said the higher salaries with add 3.3 percent to the payroll, or "more than $600,000," each year, meaning by 2022, the payroll will have risen by at least $1.8 million.

JUST ADDING THIS PHOTO: Because of how incredibly cute and 

charming Lilly is. (She giggled through her whole presentation.)
However, the district may save some money out of the payroll if at least 12 Pottsgrove teachers take up the retirement incentive offer included in the new contract.

Teachers who have been in the state retirement system for at least 15 years and at Pottsgrove for at least 10 of those years, concurrently, are eligible to receive a $20,000 pre-tax contribution to a 403B retirement account.

However, at least 12 teachers have to accept the offer before it's valid, said Assistant Superintendent Robert Harney.

With 12 teachers taking it, despite the various savings depending on their seniority and resulting salary, the district will "come out ahead" financially, with each additional retiree above 12 adding to that financial benefit for the district, Harney said.

That retirement incentive expires June 31.

Another change in the new contract is that after six years of no change, money will be added to the stipend paid to coaches and staff club advisers.

In the Pottsgrove system, different positions are worth different stipends, calculated using a point system with each point worth $119. A common stipend is worth five points, said DeLena, which adds up to $595.

What the new contract will do is add $3 to the value of a point each year for the first two years, meaning two years after the contract goes into affect on July 1, that same five-point stipend will be worth $625.

Before voting against the contract, Parker said "I’ve worked with educators across the state. I can say with some expertise, that ours are the best that anyone could ask for."

Parker further stated "No amount of financial compensation could ever really cover what they deserve, however, we, as elected officials, are also tasked with representing the taxpayers, and as such, I can not vote for a contract that includes raises for many of our staff over 6, 7, and 8 percent a year."
School Board President Robert Lindgren reminded the board that in 2011, teachers accepted a one-year contract that froze salaries and again in 2012, when the economy was teetering, the teachers union "agreed to pay freezes to help out our community, and we have long memories."

He said early bird contracts such as this occur only if "there is enough trust on one or both sides."

The board, administration and teachers union representatives "have developed good relationships" making the exploration of an early bird contract possible, Lindgren said.

Negotiations began in September, DeLena said, adding that the tentative agreement was explained to the teachers at a Thursday meeting in advance of the Monday vote.

"I think the mood, the character of a school district flows from the top down," DeLena said when asked about the relationship between the two sides at the negotiating table.

"It was a collaborative effort," said Shirk. "We've laid a really good foundation in the last three years and to have seven years of labor peace means so much."

"We have some friction points and some disagreements, but we've moving in the right direction and we're trying to build on that," said Lindgren.

"You never get everything you want, but we've taken care of some inequities in the steps and we do things incrementally," said Lindgren. "I'm very happy to be able to for this."

Tax Cap Pledge

In other news of interest to taxpayers, the board unanimously to keep any tax increase in the 2019-2020 budget at the state-imposed cap of 3 percent or less.

The vote allows the district to avoid the process of putting together and adopting a preliminary budget in February that invariably changes as the figures become clearer closer to the end of the fiscal year.

Last month, the Pottstown School Board voted to do the same.

And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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