Negotiations Update: August 20, 2018

This statement was read by School Board President David Barratt at the Board’s August 20 meeting.

Good Evening.  I wanted to provide an update on contract negotiations with our teachers union, the Great Valley Education Association.  Negotiations began in January, continued through the spring, and both the School Board and Union agreed to move to “fact finding” because we had not been able to reach an agreement.

Fact Finding is a process in which a neutral, third-party arbitrator appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board analyzes the proposals from both the Board and Union, along with financial data and other information. Our official Fact Finding date has been set for September 14. This hearing is not open to the public, under state law.

After the Fact Finder is appointed (which is scheduled to occur tomorrow) he has 40 days to issue his report. This report is not binding. Both sides have to vote to accept or reject it within 10 days. These reports often help school districts and unions to achieve --- or at least move closer to --- a settlement. We’re hoping that will be the case in Great Valley. Under the law, teachers cannot strike during the fact finding process.

Our teachers’ current contract expired on June 30 of 2018. They are still operating under that contract. This is typically called “Status Quo.” One of the actions that is permitted before, during, and after the fact finding process is known as “Work-to-Rule.”  This is a legal work action sometimes taken by a union to protest the status of contract negotiations.

What does Work-to-Rule mean?  Essentially, teachers who choose to participate in this will not put in any time beyond the mandatory hours in their contract, and will not perform any duties outside the strict terms of the contract. Teachers are still obligated (by contract) to provide adequate help to students, and we fully expect that they will continue to do so.

Our School Board very much values our teachers. They are the highest paid in Chester County, and their health care package is extremely generous – platinum level – the highest available. We compensate them very well, and we are very grateful for their hard work, expertise, dedication, and passion.

At the same time, we must balance their compensation package with the other needs of the District.  We must continue to fund high quality, 21st Century programs that a school district like Great Valley MUST have to remain competitive. We have to improve and expand our aging buildings. We need to focus on security and safety. We must safeguard class sizes, consider allocating funds for Full Day Kindergarten, and consider offering a comprehensive K-12 STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.)

Our district also continues to face uncontrollable costs. Our healthcare costs have skyrocketed 46% over the last three years. Like every district in the state, we’ve seen massive increases in our mandated contributions to the state educators’ retirement system (PSERS), significant increases in special education costs, and numerous other under-funded mandates that are simply out of our control.

It is our goal to come to an agreement that continues to compensate our teachers very well – to attract and retain new, quality teachers. We must also balance our other needs. And, we must be fair to our taxpayers.

Last week we sent information to our parents about our contract negotiations. Posted on our website is a 3-page overview, along with Frequently Asked Questions. These provide much more detailed information about everything I’ve mentioned. I encourage our residents to read this information.

Again, we are optimistic that a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. Both sides will work hard to make this happen.