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WEA Responds to the Wilson School Board Negotiations Update
WEA Responses in Red
Good Afternoon. We wanted to provide you with the latest update from the Wilson School Board on recent developments regarding efforts to reach a new, fair and affordable agreement – through good faith negotiations – with the Wilson Education Association (WEA).
As you may be aware, the leadership of the Wilson Education Association last night announced a possible strike starting January 23, 2018. Union leaders notified the District of their intention following a collective bargaining session on Thursday, January 11 at which we demonstrated our serious desire to immediately reach a fair and affordable new labor agreement. We proposed to the union a 3-year salary package including successive year wage increases of 3%, 3.25%, and 3.5%, which would surpass all terms recently negotiated in Berks County districts.
"…which would surpass all terms recently negotiated in Berks County districts."
Here are some raises that other schools in Berks County are seeing in upcoming years:
THIS YEAR - 2017-2018
Boyertown - 3.1%
Conrad Weiser - 3.0%
Exeter - 3.3%
Fleetwood - 3.3%
Hamburg - 3.4%
Oley Valley - 3.2%
Reading - 3.4%
Wyomissing - 3.8%
Conrad Weiser - 3.0%
Fleetwood - 3.0%
Hamburg - 3.3%
Oley Valley - 3.2%
Reading - 3.4%
Conrad Weiser - 3.0%
Fleetwood - 3.0%
Hamburg - 3.3%
*Many districts will enter into negotiations this year
As you can see, the Board's offer does NOT "surpass all terms recently negotiated in Berks County districts." Far from it! How are we ever going to improve our standing in the county by offering Wilson teachers lower raises and averages than many other school districts?
Also… did you know that on average, the District pays 2.0% LESS than the agreed upon percentages! This is due to changes in the staff (retirements and hirings) that take place AFTER the costs were calculated. This has been the case over the last 20 years!. For instance, in 2015-16, the negotiated raise was 4.4% - sounds high, right! The actual increase in payroll costs to the District was -.2%! YES, that’s NEGATIVE .2% - meaning the District spent less on payroll for teachers in 2015-16 than it did in 2014-15 - and yet we added more staff members in 2015-16!
If you’re wondering where our numbers come from… they are the numbers provided by the District in their required annual budget filing with the state!
The board negotiations team has been working tirelessly, in the spirit of respect and compromise, to negotiate a new contract that addresses the concerns of the union and its members. The negotiations team compromised on salaries, including starting salaries, but also in other areas that the union deems as key.
The Board continues to insist on regressive language and the removal of key contract benefits such as the longevity bonus, tuition reimbursement, column removals and more - all on top of a salary schedule that contains 2 step freezes!
As the Wilson School Board has consistently shared with the community, we do not fault the union’s leadership for trying to drive a hard bargain. However, we cannot agree to contract terms that are not sustainable. At the January 11, 2018 negotiations session, the Wilson Education Association’s three proposals were addressed. All three of these proposals would place an increased responsibility on the taxpayers, as well as create a situation where we would have to decrease our personnel expenditures.
Our 3 proposals were NOT addressed. Their receipt was acknowledged, then the Board proceeded to promote their proposal and insist the membership vote on it. There was NO discussion or debate on the merits of our proposals at the meeting, other than to reject them as unsustainable.
We will continue to focus on contract negotiations, while at the same time updating our strike planning, hoping it does not have to be implemented. The attached FAQs should address many of your initial questions, and it will be updated as necessary. We welcome your questions and encourage you to check the website’s contract-related content for any new information.
– The Wilson School Board of Directors
We remain frustrated that we are, once again (and for the 2nd time in 2 years), without a contract 7 months after the expiration of our prior agreement. Why can’t the Board negotiate and settle a contract with our teachers on a timely basis, demonstrating that they actually do value us? It’s one thing to claim to value something with words - it is something else entirely to demonstrate it with actions!
WILSON EDUCATION ASSOCIATION ISSUES STATEMENT REGARDING ONGOING NEGOTIATIONS:
(West Lawn, January 11, 2018) – The Wilson Education Association (WEA) issued the following statement today after meeting with the Wilson School Board Thursday evening to settle a contract dispute that has lasted over 6 months:
The WEA started negotiations with the Board last spring. They have been working without a contract since July 1, 2017. This is the second time in 2 years that the WEA has gone 6 months or longer without a contract. Teachers are disappointed by the lack of progress and what they perceive as a lack of urgency on the part of the school board to reach an agreement “The Board insists on short term contracts and then allows them to expire without reaching an agreement. Then months go by with no effort made on their part to schedule negotiations sessions" stated WEA Chief Negotiator Michael Fitzgerald.
Wilson schools and students consistently earn top test scores and accolades at the local, state and national level. Wilson High School scored tops in the county on state-mandated tests last year and Shiloh Hills Elementary earned a Blue Ribbon School award. “Despite our excellent reputation and standing, Wilson teachers earn significantly less than their colleagues at many other Berks schools. We have one of the lowest starting salaries in Berks County. As a result, many teachers are leaving for employment in other districts where they can earn significantly more" noted WEA President Vicky Taylor. "This has created a serious attrition problem that negatively impacts students - but one that the Board seems to be unwilling to acknowledge or fix. Over 20 teachers have left the District since June, 2017" Taylor added.
"Because we were not able convince the school board that it is in the best interest of the entire community to settle this contract now, we have made the difficult decision to inform the board of our intent to call for a strike. The strike is scheduled to commence Tuesday morning, January 23, 2018. This is the last thing we want, but it seems to be what the school board wants. They have the ability and power to end this crisis at any time,” stated Fitzgerald. “We’re not suggesting that we need to be the highest paid district in the county, though our results would justify that – but we don’t believe we should be in the bottom third of the county with regard to salaries either. For years, we have also paid the highest premium-share amounts in the county for our health insurance”.
Two weeks ago, the WEA presented the Board with 3 contract proposal options including 3, 4, and 5 year plans. However, the Board has not responded favorably to any of them. The District recently added $3.7 million dollars to its fund balance – a surplus from their 2016-17 budget. They also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 2 years to hire and then terminate the employment of a previous superintendent. “This isn’t about a lack of funds, it’s about properly valuing a staff that consistently produces excellent results” Fitzgerald noted.
“Our members are not willing to accept step/pay freezes and other regressive proposals that the Board has proposed. Our goal has always been to negotiate a contract that is fair and reasonable, and is absent of provisions that are harmful to our students and our members. We are also determined to reach an agreement that provides for competitive salaries and benefits and strengthens the School District’s ability to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Although we are very disappointed with the Board’s unwillingness to offer acceptable contract terms that are competitive and commensurate with the job our teachers do every day, we remain willing to meet and negotiate around the clock until we reach a satisfactory agreement” Fitzgerald added.
WEA Responds to the Wilson School Board
WEA responses are in red
Question 1: What is the average tenure of a Wilson teacher?
a) Wilson is a District-of-choice where the average teacher tenure is 10.2 years
- b) The Board recognizes the importance of retaining instructional staff members, and is pleased that the current average tenure of teachers is just over 10 years. It is hoped that when a new contract is ultimately ratified, that rate will hold steady, and possibly increase.
FACT: Hold steady…??? Look at the chart below to see how we compare to other local districts. Wilson has the LOWEST average tenure in the county and the Board wants to “hold steady”?
Examples of surrounding school average tenures: (Resource: www.pennlive.com)
Schuykill Valley - 18 years
Oley - 17
Kutztown - 16 years
Fleetwood - 16
Tulpehocken - 15
Mifflin - 15
Conrad Weiser - 15
Twin Valley - 15
Daniel Boone - 14
Boyertown - 14
Wyomissing - 14
Brandywine Heights - 13
Exeter - 13
Muhlenberg - 13
Anietam - 12
Reading - 12
Wilson - 9
Question 2: Is retention of teachers a problem?
Board Statement: There is some expected turnover, but, for example, over the past year the retention rate was 96.75%.
FACT: See average tenure information above… plus, in the past 4 months alone, 18 teachers left = 4% increase in our retention problem in JUST FOUR MONTHS.
Question 3: What is the average compensation of a Wilson teacher when factoring in wages and benefits?
a)Just over $107,700.00.
- b) The Board also recognizes that compensation is an important factor in attraction and retention of staff, and we have worked very hard to reach a point where the average compensation of WEA members is now $107,877.00, which accounts for the average annual salary of $66,809.00 plus benefits.
FACT: This statement is misleading - in order to come up with their numbers, the Board is including the District’s share of social security and medicare taxes, health insurance premiums and retirement payments! Using their numbers, that’s like saying that someone earning a $50,000 annual salary really earns $80,700 per year! Of course it takes a Wilson teacher YEARS before they earn $50,000!
FACT: Wilson = 14th out of 18 Berks districts with our current starting salary.
Wilson = Bottom ⅓ of average teacher salary in Berks County
Average teacher salary per district according to Pennlive.com:
Schuylkill Valley - $81,826.52
Kutztown - $76,401.91
Twin Valley - $72,297.40
Daniel Boone - $72,238.57
Boyertown - $71,977.42
Wilson - $64,108.00
**Boyertown is the only school that performed better than Wilson and we are pleased to have Boyertown’s former superintendent at Wilson this year!
Question 4: What are the teacher-student ratios in the District?
Board Statement: Teacher-student ratios are as follows: Core (Classroom) 1:18.2 (Elementary); 1:15.2 (Middle School); and 1:21.8 (High School).
Averages are misleading; a student’s experience can’t be quantified. Anecdotally, there is an AP English class at the high school with 28 students (even though College Board recommends no more than 21), a philosophy class of 32 students, a phys-ed class of 32, etc.
FACT: HS Health and PE classes have 32 students with 1 teacher. Some Social Studies teachers have class caseloads approaching 180 students! There are also classes that were canceled this year, despite full enrollment because we don’t have the necessary staffing to run them!
Question 5: Are the teachers working without a new agreement?
Board Statement: The previous Agreement expired June 30, [sic] however, bargaining unit members continue to work under its provisions.
FACT: YES, we are - and it’s the second time in 2 years that we find ourselves in this position (in addition to 2 previous wage freezes). WHY? Only the board can answer that and explain why teachers are being denied timely contract settlements. We’re not the ones who refused to negotiate for over 6 months!
Question 6: What is the status of contract negotiations as of today?
Board Statement: We are engaged in collective bargaining, exchanging proposals and counter-proposals on economic and non-economic issues. A state mediator continues to be involved in this process.
FACT: The board refused to negotiate with the teachers for over 6 months, then just recently (October 30th) provided a regressive contract offer - again, for only 2 years, while most school districts are settling contracts with 4-5 year terms.
Question 7: Is there a deadline by which a new contract must be adopted?
Board Statement: No. The District would very much like to see a new, fair and affordable contract reached as soon as possible.
FACT: The Board refused to respond to efforts by both the WEA and the state mediator to establish negotiations meetings for over 6 months!
FAIR???? The definition of fair: “without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage.”
The contract proposal submitted by the Wilson School Board was NOT fair to Wilson teachers and would worsen our already severe attrition problem.
Question 8: Is the union likely to go on strike?
Board Statement: Only the union can answer that question. The District does not believe a work stoppage would accomplish anything, but would likely be disruptive and harmful to the students and the families that we serve.
FACT: Only the Board can answer that question. They refused to negotiate for 6 months then provided a regressive contract offer only after we spoke out publicly. Their recent contract proposal is an affront to our teachers and indicates that the Board does NOT want to settle our contract!
Question 9: While there's a state mediator involved in the negotiations, couldn't the district propose binding arbitration to reach a new agreement and avoid a strike?
Board Statement: Binding arbitration is not permitted under state law (Act 88). It does allow for non-binding arbitration under certain circumstances, but only after a strike is underway. The District believes that good faith collective bargaining is designed to produce an agreement, and we are determined to reach a new contract as soon as possible.
FACT: GOOD FAITH???? Good faith doesn’t include making it harder for teachers to earn a respectable wage and discouraging continuing education at the same time. Good faith doesn’t remove items and attack provisions that were negotiated in the contract settlement from 2016!
Board Statement: Every Board member and District administrator has unqualified respect for Wilson’s outstanding, dedicated professional staff. Their contributions to our educational mission are deeply valued and greatly appreciated.
FACT: RESPECT? Teachers never hear from the Board or receive recognition for their accomplishments - such as Blue Ribbon school awards and County-high test scores, including the Keystone exam results that were recently released.
Board Statement: As part of its responsibilities, the Board aspires to recognize the contributions and value of its professional staff through the economic and non-economic terms and conditions that comprise the collective bargaining agreement we negotiate with the WEA, the bargaining unit’s third-party representative for employment-related matters.
FACT: Value the professional staff? Teachers were blamed by a board member for a failed website launch. The fact is, the teachers had nothing to do with it!
FACT: Teachers were also blamed, by a different board member, for creating a poor salary schedule… suggesting that teachers should “blame the union,” when the schedule was actually CREATED BY THE DISTRICT, not us!
Board Statement: Likewise, while we respect the confidentiality of collective bargaining when it comes to discussing benefits, and other issues, one of our goals is to continue to provide competitive benefits to our WEA members. These presently include a flexible menu of paid and unpaid time off opportunities to address a range of personal and family needs (ranging from personal days and sick time, including paid days off to care for an ill family member.) The information communicated in the WEA’s Facebook post on October 31 is completely false as any employee can request unpaid FMLA leave and we currently do and will continue to grant paid family illness days to care for an ill family member.
FACT: Confidentiality? During the last contract negotiations that took place just over 1-½ years ago, the Board published their contract offer to the District’s website and posted a video with bargaining details on their website!
FACT: The Board’s contract proposal would PREVENT teachers from caring for their families by eliminating health-care eligibility and insurance, extended leaves, and singles out male employees in a discriminatory manner, suggesting that men should not be permitted to take sick days following the birth of a child, The District claims that employees are abusing their sick day benefit. Based on the District’s own “evidence,” only 7 teachers (out of 460 members) have used 5 or more sick days in the LAST 3 YEARS for this purpose! Should our school board be meddling in the private decisions of our families or proposing discriminatory (and possibly illegal) policies?
FACT: The District’s “Evidence” to support their position (provided by the HR dept.):
Male employees using 5 or more sick days following the birth of a child in the last 3 years:
Is this really a problem that needs solving?
Meanwhile, 18 teachers have left the District in the LAST 4-5 MONTHS and NO action has been proposed by the Board that would stop or reverse that trend - their contract proposal of 10/30 will only make our attrition problem worse!
FACT: Personal days? Wilson has the lowest average for personal days for early career teachers in the county. These are the teachers that are leaving for employment in other districts.
Board Statement: In preparing its proposals and counter-proposals, the Board also recognizes that its ability to fund a contract is directly related to revenue generation through the District’s taxpayers. In this regard, it attempts to balance its respect and obligations to the professional staff with its fiduciary responsibilities to all taxpayers. This means we want to simultaneously continue to be viewed as an employer-of-choice by our workforce and also a community-of-choice (and this speaks to our comparatively low real estate millage rate) by every resident and business owner.
FACT: The Board squandered hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the search, hiring and subsequent resignation processes related to the hiring of a former superintendent in 2016. How does that demonstrate “fiduciary responsibility” when a simple Google search would have revealed the folly of their actions?
FACT: The quality of education is arguably at least equal to if not greater than the draw of lower millage.
One local real estate group advertised the following qualities about Wilson teachers:
“The staff is dedicated to improving student learning and achievement. They pride themselves on creating opportunities for students to succeed in and out of the classroom with their extensive course offerings, extracurricular activities, and a climate that is conducive for learning” (BerksRealEstate.com).
Other pertinent research
“A 2013 realtor.com® survey of nearly 1,000 prospective home buyers showed that 91 percent said school boundaries were important in their search” (Realtor.com).
"There's no question that home prices and test scores are linked," said Linda Strean, managing editor at greatschools.net in San Francisco, a nonprofit that provides information on schools nationwide" (San Francisco Chronicle.com).
“Parents of school-age kids often pay attention to school performance ratings and are likely to pay more to be near public schools with higher scores. Buyers who have kids or are planning to have kids will likely use this type of criteria as the most important part of their search” (Zillow.com).
Board Statement: Please understand that we would like to see a new contract ratified as soon as possible. It is unfortunate that some seek to politicize the process of labor negotiations, especially with an election looming.
FACT: REALLY? WEA repeatedly requested dialog and a counterproposal (for 6 months) to no avail. Our emails went unanswered, as did the State Mediator’s. Now, with an election looming, the Board presented WEA with a regressive proposal on October 30th, just 1 week before the election... and then accuses us of politicizing negotiations? Is this tactic meant to create more difficulties for new board members?
FACT: WEA is looking forward to refreshing changes in the board constituency and will continue to support candidates who are pro-education!
- We are the lone Berks district… the only Berks County district currently without a contract.
Wilson is a “destination” school district.
Families move here because of our reputation for academic excellence and performance – a distinction earned by the teachers in this district. Local realtors (including a school board member) advertise “Wilson Schools” in their property listings!
- We continue to consistently outperform ALL county districts.
We recently earned top Keystone exam scores in the county and a Blue Ribbon school award at one of our elementary schools, in addition to our outstanding state and national ranking.
- Our salaries/benefits rank poorly compared to other county districts.
We are in the bottom third of all Berks schools with regard to several salary metrics. We are 14th (out of 18 Berks districts) with our current starting salary.
- We have an attrition problem.
18 professional employees have left our District in just the last 4 months. We are losing excellent teachers due to the absence of a contract and competitive wages - the lack of a contract is demoralizing and compounds what is already a serious attrition problem.
Wilson Education Association's message to the Wilson School Board:
October 16, 2017
We stand here this evening on behalf of over 450 professional staff members that are demoralized and disheartened by the unwillingness of the Board to engage in deliberate efforts to resolve our unsettled contract. Six months ago, on April 17th, we presented and discussed a contract proposal with the Board’s negotiations team. At a follow-up meeting on May 25th, we were provided with a response that addressed only one of the several items in our proposal.
We then requested a complete and comprehensive proposal in an email dated June 15th that addressed all of the issues set forth in our proposal - since that time, 4 months have elapsed and we have received nothing by way of a counterproposal. The state appointed mediator had no better luck trying to arrange dates and times for us to meet, writing in an email dated September 26th, that no one on the Board had responded to her request to establish meeting dates and times.
In early September, we learned of the Board’s decision to turn over responsibility for contract negotiations to their attorney - and that a comprehensive counterproposal would be forthcoming. To date we have received nothing. Two weeks ago, following our call to members to attend this evening’s meeting, we were informed that a counterproposal is available. We have requested a copy for our review, in advance of a meeting scheduled for October 30th, yet again, we’ve received nothing.
Can you provide any valid reasons or explanations to the people here this evening as to why there seems to be no urgency to settle this contract - the 2nd time in 2 years that we find ourselves in this position? Our last contract – settled just 1-1/2 years ago – was resolved 8 months after its expiration. We are now 4 months past the expiration of our most recent contract, no further along in the bargaining process than when we submitted our proposal 6 months ago.
We believe we CONSISTENTLY meet or exceed your expectations – when can we expect a good-faith effort for you to meet ours? Things like negotiating our contracts in a timely fashion and recognizing and fixing our attrition problem…
We are not prepared to wait another 4 months to settle a fair contract that is commensurate with the outstanding work our staff does - we deserve nothing less…