The Neshaminy Federation of Teachers is critcizing what it calls the Neshaminy School District's use of "scare tactics" and is asking the school board to "to cease its confrontational strategy and work with teachers and parents to do what’s best for students in the schools."
Scare Tactics, Pulling the Fire Alarm & the Budget
In a NFT-issued press release, union President Louise Boyd referred to Superintendent Louis Muenker's budget cost-cutting recommendations as “the latest examples of the scare tactics being used by the district to alarm students and their parents, teachers and staff, and the community in general.”
Muenker made a presentation of program and staffing cut suggestions at the last school board meeting. In addition to cutting of 36 staffing positions across the district, Muenker also suggested eliminating The Learning Center. He prefaced his presentation by stating that he was presenting suggestions and that the board would be having more discussion about the budget before making decisions.
“Closing The Learning Center and making major staff cuts would have huge implications for our students,” Boyd said in the press release. Boyd also claimed in the release that the union requested to sit down with district officials to discuss details about the cuts and their impact and that the union was told that "budget information is not yet solid enough to make decisions or even meet to discuss the possibilities."
“The Neshaminy community is being told that all of these actions are necessary because of a projected budget shortfall for the coming year,” Boyd said, likening the district’s actions to “pulling the fire alarm before they know there is a fire.”
“When school officials choose to make such premature announcements—before they really know the budget bottom line—we can only assume that they are more interested in manipulating public opinion than they are in making sure that our community has the best school system possible,” she added.
However, school board President Ritchie Webb said that Pennsylvania law mandates school boards to publicly disclose the budgeting process throughout the year and that this requires them to publish whatever details they have based on information available at that moment.
"Since the vetting process is open, the public can observe any and all discussions surrounding the budget, which includes the unpleasant task of how to deal with financial gaps. It is never our intention to scare anyone, be it the students, the public or the teachers, but we must start looking for answers at the very outset of the process," Webb stated.
Webb also said that it is "naive" of the union leaders to think that the school board could publish the budget numbers without trying to address them.
"When you have a $14 million gap, you can’t exactly say to the public that 'we’ll get back to you.' The people want and deserve answers ASAP."
Lack of Transparency
In the union's press release, it is also claimed that union leaders have "noted the consistent pattern in the board’s budget process over the last several years in which the board starts with projections of big deficits that in every instance have turned out to be overstated and inaccurate." In addition, NFT Vice President Jeff Dunkley stated that the school board is "deliberately avoiding transparency in district fiscal matters and seem intent on making confusion the hallmark of their budget deliberations.”
This, Webb stated, is "truly a case of the pot calling the kettle black" in regards to the board not being transparent.
"When the NFT agrees to videotaping our negotiation sessions, then they can come back to me and talk about transparency," he said.
“We know that there are real challenges facing our school system, but we must not react irrationally,” Boyd said. She also stated that things can be solved without hurting students if the union and school board can work together, similar to the district recently joining a health care consortium.
However, Webb claims that the school board not wanting to work with the NFT is "merely a smoke screen aimed at covering up the root cause of our problems – the unaffordable [contract]." He also stated that the union has two faces: "the kinder, gentler face they show the public (sometimes), and the true face that has worked to contract, stalled negotiations and put this district on the verge of financial ruin."
"They can spin this any way they want with the help of their high-priced PR firm, but it will never change the numbers. We can’t afford their contract demands. When they want to collaborate on that issue, then I’m all ears," Webb said.