Rudolph Clarke Attorneys Negotiate Five Year Teachers Contract for Pennsbury School District

Municipal LawyerRudolph Clarke Attorneys recently completed negotiations on a five year contract with the Pennsbury teachers union.  The contract was approved by the Pennsbury School Board unanimously.  Managing Partner, Mike Clarke served as the Chief Negotiator for the School District and was assisted during the negotiations by Peter Amuso and Greg Heleniak.

The article from the Bucks County Courier Times can be found below:

Pennsbury school board unanimously approves new five-year teachers contract

The Pennsbury school board unanimously approved a new five-year teachers contract at its Wednesday night meeting.

All nine board members voted yes on the deal, which several described as respectful to teachers and others in their union while also being fiscally responsible to district taxpayers.

The teachers union, called the Pennsbury Education Association, had ratified the deal Monday afternoon. The PEA includes a total of 848 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, psychologists, social workers and other positions.

The school board then presented details of the contract to the public at a Monday night meeting before waiting two days to vote on it.

The contract is retroactive to July 1 and runs through June 30, 2021. It gives PEA members who are at the top step either $1,000 or $2,000 raises this school year, depending on what instructor classification they are in.

All PEA members get $1,000 raises in each of the last four years of the contract, plus column and step movement in years three through five. There will be column but no step movement in year two of the deal.

“I’m excited about having a five-year contract,” said board member Jacqueline Redner. “To me that’s huge. It means all of us — from the board, to the administration, to the teachers — can now settle in, do what is best for our kids, and continue to work together to make Pennsbury the best school district it can be.”

Fellow board member Joshua Waldorf had similar thoughts.

“This five-year deal means that we now have a window of time when our community’s collective focus can be solely on the education and not on labor/management issues,” he said. “This hard-fought agreement is a tremendous opportunity for our Pennsbury families, our teachers and most importantly, our kids.”

Lucy Walter, PEA spokeswoman, said she hopes the new contract marks an end to the rancor that has often characterized negotiations in recent years.

“This gives us five years to focus on what we need to focus on, the education of our children,” she said. “Together, let’s move this district in the right direction.”

Starting salaries under the new contract are $45,628 this school year, $46,628 in 2017-2018, $47,628 in 2018-2019, $48,628 in 2019-2020 and $49,628 in 2020-2021. Maximum salaries are $100,204 this school year, $101,204 in 2017-2018, $102,204 in 2018-2019, $103,204 in 2019-2020 and $104,204 in 2020-2021.

The average PEA salary is currently $76,427.

Employee contributions to their health insurance premiums will stay at 12 percent this year and next, increase to 13 percent the next two years and increase again to 14 percent in the last year of the contract. Contributions are capped at $2,250 in the first two years, $2,350 in the third year, $2,450 in the fourth year and $2,550 in the final year.

Union members also have the option to select a less comprehensive health plan that has 7 percent contributions in each year of the contract.

Superintendent William Gretzula said the district will save roughly $1 million a year on health insurance costs for PEA members because of a switch to a different plan that has higher co-pays for seeing medical specialists and other changes. Savings will also be realized by increasing the number of years it takes to reach the maximum salary from 13 to 16.

However, the total net increase in costs resulting from the new contract are estimated at about $3 million, with an increase of $3,468 in the first year, a savings of $563,923 in the second, and increases of $1.26 million, $1.19 million and $1.1 million in the final three years.

Three district residents who spoke during public comment before the vote weren’t thrilled about the new contract.

“I certainly see how teachers benefited here but not me as a taxpayer,” said Doug Marshall, who added that he wished negotiations on new teacher contracts would be more open.

“Real transparency would be involving the public from the start of negotiations and giving them regular updates, not presenting a done deal two nights before a vote,” Marshall added.

“This vote should have been held up until there was more discussion,” added Robert Abrams.

Frank Carr said teacher pay should be more merit based.

“If you have a teacher who needs improvement and is below average, the principal or superintendent should be able to withhold a step in salary,” he said.

Gretzula said the new contract does give the district that ability.

“A teacher who receives an unsatisfactory rating on a state-approved rating form will remain on the same step and column the following year,” he said.

As for transparency, school district solicitor Michael Clarke said the board had to wait until details of the contract were presented to and voted on by the PEA before they could be presented to the public.

“To do otherwise could have been considered an unfair labor practice,” he said. “I think Pennsbury went above and beyond what many school districts do, which is unveil and then vote on a contract on the same night.”

The new contract comes after the recommendations from a fact-finder on a new deal had been accepted by the PEA but rejected by the school board.

Negotiations on a new deal resumed soon after the school board rejected the fact-finder’s recommendations for a second time in May. School board members said they couldn’t vote to accept the recommendations because they were incomplete and included salary provisions that would have cost Pennsbury $14 million above current compensation requirements over the next three years.

Members of PEA voted in June to allow the union’s representatives to call a strike if an agreement could not be worked out. Walter said at the time that PEA members didn’t want to start the new school year without a new contract, though they ended up doing so.

At a school board meeting in late August just before school started, board president Gary Sanderson tried to calm fears about a possible teachers strike by stating board members were optimistic about reaching a new deal and weren’t thinking in terms of a strike. The district had received numerous calls from parents and other residents worried about a possible strike, Sanderson said.