In the latest chapter of the Neshaminy School District's contentious 31/2-year teachers contract saga, union leaders representing Neshaminy teachers ended Monday's negotiating session after two minutes, calling the school board's new offer an "insult."
Hours earlier, Board President Richie Webb had said, "We on the Neshaminy school board hope that our new offer will be the starting point for more productive talks between the two sides."
Webb had hoped to schedule two or three more negotiating sessions. Instead, Monday's session never got off the ground.
"The counterproposal is an insult to every certified staff member in this district," Neshaminy Federation of Teachers president Louise Boyd said in an e-mail. "This session was another demonstration of the board's plan to avoid, at all costs, good-faith negotiations. . . . Our response will be shared at an appropriate time and in an appropriate fashion."
The teachers have been working without a contract or pay raises for three years in what is the longest current impasse in the state. They also have never paid for health-care coverage under a contract that the district says it can no longer afford.
The board's new, three-year offer is little changed from the rejected version that it pulled off the table in May. It includes the same 1 percent annual raise, amounting to about a 3.1 percent annual increase when salary steps are factored in. Also like the previous offer, it would exclude retroactive pay raises to 2008, when the last contract expired, and eliminate a $27,500 retirement benefit.
The main differences in the new offer center on proposed contributions teachers would pay for health-care coverage.
Unlike the previous district offer, in which teachers would have paid 17 percent of the cost for health insurance, the new offer would allow teachers to choose from among three plans ranging from 10 to 20 percent. And instead of paying 17 percent of the cost of dental, vision, and prescription coverage, they would pay 20 percent.
"Depending on which [health-insurance] coverage they choose, this could save the district a couple of million dollars to as much as $5 [million] or $6 million," Webb said at a news briefing before the negotiation session at Neshaminy Middle School.
Outside, about 50 demonstrators holding pro-teacher signs such as "What's the ETA on our CBA," "Negotiate NOW!" and "Neshaminy Deserves Better, Let's Work Together" lined a driveway to the school. They declined to comment on the offer.
In addition to eliminating the one-time $27,500 payout for teachers who retire after at least 10 years of consecutive service, the district would stop providing free coverage for retirees and their dependents for health care, life insurance, prescriptions, dental care, and vision care. Those benefits cost $4 million a year, said Bill Gulla, the district's insurance-benefits broker.
The new offer also would extend the workday by an hour, to eight hours, and add two workdays, to 190.5. And it would eliminate credit for master's equivalency for salary purposes.
"That was a bone of contention within the community," Webb said. "We're one of the last districts to allow equivalency."
The offer incorporated recommendations by a six-member Citizens Advisory Committee, consisting of parents, senior citizens, and a business executive. The board withheld their names, saying it wanted to prevent retaliation against their children.
"They were upset about teachers not showing up for Back to School Night or writing letters of recommendation for students," Webb said. The offer would require teachers to write the letters and possibly to attend up to three evening school events.
As for the aborted negotiating session, Webb said: "I was surprised they said no about future dates. Their members are always holding signs that say, 'Negotiate.' "