Although Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent actions have thrown Chester Upland School District into a state of turmoil, local unions in the district are rising above politics and putting students first. Teachers and support staff in Chester Upland School District agreed to work without pay so their students can return to school on time.
They should be commended for doing so.
The Delaware County Daily Times has the full story:
More than 300 Chester Upland School District faculty members and support staff voted Thursday to work without pay if necessary after learning from Superintendent Gregory Shannon during their first day back at school that there are insufficient funds to meet the district’s first payroll of the school year.
Chester Upland Education Association President Michele Paulick said that at a morning convocation Shannon read a letter from Francis Barnes, the state-appointed receiver for the school district which has been in financial flux for 25 years, that the district currently does not have the funds to make payroll for Sept. 9. Classes are scheduled to begin Sept. 2.
“We knew that the district was in financial straits but we didn’t know it was so immediate so, yes, we were very shocked,” said Paulick Thursday evening.
Following the announcement from the superintendent, the approximately 200 teachers represented by the Chester Upland Education Association and more than 120 secretaries, teaching assistants, licensed practical nurses and other staff represented by the Chester Upland Education Support Personnel Association passed a joint resolution stating their members “will work as long as they are individually able, even with delayed compensation, and even with the failure of the school district to meet its payroll obligations, in order to continue to serve the students who learn in the Chester Upland School District.”
Interestingly, Democrats in the Pennsylvania State House—who are also facing the possibility of foregoing monthly paychecks—are taking a different approach. PennLive reports:
Rep. Frank Dermody asked the Pennsylvania Treasury for "a loan, from whatever source you deem appropriate and in such amount as may be necessary, to be used during the balance of the current budget impasse to help us fulfill our obligation to pay timely salaries and related costs."
Perhaps House Democrats should take note of what is happening in Chester Upland—and follow suit.
Teachers across Pennsylvania are being forced to contribute their hard-earned dollars to partisan politics and organizations they do not agree with.
Brittney Parker, CF’s Community Liaison, spoke with Dom Giordano of WPHT Talk Radio 1210 on the Free to Teach initiative, a resource available for teachers like Linda and Jane who are taking a stand against coercive union practices.
Brittney outlines many of Free to Teach’s useful tools, including the Teacher’s Bill of Rights.
Many teachers, as Brittney points out, are not aware of their rights because their unions keep them in the dark on resignation periods and union processes–complicated barriers for teachers who have questions or want to exit their union.
“We will answer teachers' questions, help them go over their collective bargaining agreement, and figure out when their resignation windows are. We can help them find a voice and be that voice for teachers who just want to be able to make decisions that are best for their own lives.”
Click here or listen below to learn more about Free to Teach.
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Mary loves teaching culinary arts, but she doesn’t want her name used in political mailers. Jane spent a career in the classroom, but she can’t donate the money she earned to her chosen scholarship fund. And Frank is a veteran teacher who wants to resign his union membership but can’t until 2017, after he is eligible for retirement.
Mary, Jane, and Frank are just a few of Pennsylvania’s teachers inspired by a passion to educate but, stymied by the union leaders charged with representing them. Now, they are speaking out in support of the Teacher’s Bill of Rights, presented by Free to Teach (FTT), a project of the Commonwealth Foundation.
FTT aims to enshrine a Teacher’s Bill of Rights into law to end the exploitation of Pennsylvania educators by the politically powerful. The list of rights includes:
- The right to associate professionally as I choose, without being forced to contribute financially to any organization I do not support.
- The right to be rewarded as a professional based on my job performance.
- The right to protect my paycheck and not be forced to fund political views I oppose.
- The right to have flexibility to meet the learning needs of students regardless of job action stipulations by the union.
- The right to employment based on merit, not just years of experience.
Regrettably, these rights are only aspirations for most Pennsylvania teachers. Under the current system, many teachers are mistreated at the hands of their union. Here are a few examples:
- Frank is trapped. Frank, a high school teacher in Lackawanna County and 28-year member of the National Education Association, disagrees with the political causes his dues support. When he learned of his right to resign union membership, he also learned his current contract prohibits him from leaving the union until June 2017, after he is eligible for retirement. “The union does not represent or even respect my deeply held convictions,” Frank says. “It forces me to violate them.”
- Mary was exploited. Williamsport-area educator Mary Trometter was a member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) for more than 20 years. She was shocked when her name was used—without her consent—in a political mailer the union sent to her husband asking him to “join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor.”
“I was so appalled by the content of this election letter, I ripped it in two before realizing that I should speak up about my experience,” Mary wrote. “Unions used to protect the little guy, like my great-grandfather. But they’ve become what we used to fight against. Now they’re the big bosses and ordinary union members are the little guy.”
- Jane was rejected. As a religious objector to union membership in Chester County, Jane Ladley donated her “fair share fee,” otherwise “owed” to the teachers’ union, to charity. But the PSEA rejected her choice of a scholarship fund that was designed for high school seniors who displayed an interest in the U.S. Constitution. “They are telling me which groups I have to choose,” Jane said. “It’s a wrong that needs to be righted.”
Using teachers as political pawns and ignoring their will demonstrates a lack of respect for teachers and the students they teach. Once educators are no longer subject to the whims of unions, they will truly be free to teach.
The consequences of Gov. Tom Wolf’s lock-step fealty to public sector union interests are being felt across the state and particularly in York City—where one of Wolf’s first major decisions as governor is generating renewed skepticism among those seeking improvement for the failing school district.
In March, the Wolf administration forced out York City recovery officer David Meckley and withdrew the state’s petition to introduce transformative change to a school system known for financial distress, abysmal academic performance, and astounding rates of violence. Meckley, who sought to implement a charter school model, realized Wolf was wedded to the status quo and would not accept a solution that prioritized students and families over government unions.
What has been happening in York City since the new recovery officer assumed her position?
If a recent editorial from the York Daily Record is any indication, not much. Saylor hired an outside firm to study the school district and provide recommendations. Highlights from the report include the following:
- Teacher attendance dropped to 88 percent in 2014-15 (which is actually lower than student attendance, according to Saylor).
- Barely half of district personnel believe the quality of education delivered by the district is good or excellent. Four percent of teachers believe that education quality is excellent.
- 86 percent of school and central office personnel report that the district does not reward or retain excellent staff.
- 75 percent of school staff do not believe individual schools have sufficient decision making authority over their budgets.
The report also noted that York City’s per pupil funding is on par with the state average. Accordingly, the district may need to “revisit its spending strategy to ensure practices are centered on student learning needs.” However, in June, the teacher’s union voted to accept a new collective bargaining contract that increases pay over the next two years.
And just this week, York City announced it has hired a new “information specialist’’ to create “positive publicity with the outside community.” Editors at the Daily Record describe the hire as unnecessary and an unwise use of limited resources:
Ms. Saylor and other district officials ought to be able to speak for themselves to the media and the community. And they certainly ought to be able to perform effective internal communications—or perhaps they shouldn't be in their current positions.
While he may not be involved the district’s day to day operations, the governor’s fingerprints are all over the situation in York City. The decision to force out Meckley—and, in so doing, jettison meaningful education reform—will have lasting repercussions for families who deserve better than a ten year plan and an information specialist.
Political mailers supporting candidates are par for the course during elections—unless those mailers are sent by government unions and funded with members’ dues. Then, they’re illegal.
But that didn’t stop the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) from sending them—or the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board from punting on its authority to enforce the law.
Last fall, Assistant Professor and PSEA member Mary Trometter opened a letter from the PSEA addressed to her husband, asking him to “join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor on November 4.”
Appalled not only at the partisan mailer but that her name was used—without her permission—to endorse Wolf, Mary decided to hold the union accountable. She and The Fairness Center filed a charge with the PLRB. Recently, though, the PLRB announced its function was not to enforce the law and sent the case to Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office for enforcement.
The question isn’t whether PSEA used members’ dues for politicking—they admitted to this. The question is whether those charged with enforcing the law will turn a blind eye and continue to let the union exploit members for political gain.
Mary plans to appeal the PLRB’s decision and is also calling on AG Kane to enforce the law.
Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would also protect teachers like Mary from being used as ATMs to fund union campaigning. “Mary’s Law,” also known as paycheck protection, would require union leaders to go directly to members to collect money for politicking, instead of relying on taxpayer-funded collections to advance the union’s political agenda.
It’s indefensible that the PSEA thinks it can take Mary’s dues money and hijack her name for political gain.
You can stand with Mary by urging your lawmakers to support Mary’s Law.
An amusing opinion article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes aim at pending legislation that would protect high-performing teachers and change incentives in persistently failing schools. Authors Adam Schott and Kate Shaw have various misleading things to say about both HB 805 and SB 6, but this sentence sums it up:
An increasing number of state policy proposals…[treat] teachers as an interchangeable commodity, rather than highly skilled professionals.
What a peculiar claim about legislation that clearly respects the art of teaching and treats teachers as individuals.
HB 805 stipulates that, in the unfortunate event of furloughs, teachers be retained by virtue of job performance, not merely their years of service in the classroom (seniority). Under HB 805, teachers are evaluated based on the state’s new evaluation system, which currently rates 98.2 percent of teachers as distinguished or proficient. HB 805 would protect a teacher rated “distinguished” in favor of a teacher rated “failing.”
Only 15 percent of the evaluation system is based on test scores from each teacher’s classroom, so crocodile tears about an overreliance on “high-stakes testing” ring hollow. Reasonable people can debate the components of Pennsylvania’s evaluation system—which was endorsed by the state’s largest teachers' union—but teacher quality is closely connected with student learning, and measures of teacher effectiveness are quite reliable.
Above all else, it takes real chutzpah to claim that retaining teachers based on actual job performance treats them as “interchangeable commodities.”
The argument from Schott and Shaw boils down to: “Teachers are much more than widgets, so let’s treat them as widgets.” It is, ironically, opponents of seniority reform who view teachers as interchangeable commodities that cannot be evaluated like other professionals.
Over the weekend, Adam Brandolph of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review penned an excellent story on James Williams, a Mercer County science teacher standing up for his rights against the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).
Williams was long displeased with how the union spent his dues, but he only recently decided to resign his membership. The final straw was learning about the landmark lawsuit filed by Jane Ladley and Chris Meier, who sued Pennsylvania’s largest teachers’ union for violating their basic rights as religious objectors. (Read more about the lawsuit here, here, and here.)
Upon learning about the Ladley/Meier case, Williams took the necessary steps to leave the union and is planning to become a religious objector himself.
The entire Tribune-Review story is worth your time, but here’s a significant section:
[Williams] left his district's union this year when he learned about a lawsuit filed by two Pennsylvania teachers who, like he does, oppose the liberal causes and political candidates on which the Pennsylvania State Education Association spent money.
A 1988 state law allows teachers' unions to require those who opt out of the union to pay a “fair share” payment in lieu of membership dues to compensate the union for the collective bargaining benefit the non-member receives. If someone opts out based on religious grounds, the money is donated to a nonreligious charity agreed upon by both sides.
The teachers sued the PSEA in September when the union refused to remit their money to charities they chose.
“I had been thinking about it for a while but I pulled the trigger when I saw that lawsuit,” Williams said. “The union has an agenda, which I vehemently oppose. They've consistently not done what I think they should be doing.”
Williams joins Jane Ladley, Chris Meier, Linda Misja, and a growing chorus of Pennsylvania teachers who refuse to accept the PSEA's mistreatment. Fortunately, Rep. John Lawrence has moved to correct this injustice. His legislation, HB 267, ensures religious objectors can donate their “fair share fee” to a non-religious organization of their choosing—without interference from a union.
Seniority-based teacher furloughs may soon become a relic of the past for Pennsylvania public schools.
On Tuesday evening, the state House approved Rep. Stephen Bloom’s HB 805—the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act. The legislation ensures teachers are retained based on their effectiveness, not merely their seniority, in the unfortunate event of furloughs. Teacher quality is measured based on a statewide evaluation system—one endorsed by the teachers’ unions—that currently rates 98.2 percent of teachers as satisfactory.
HB 805 protects Pennsylvania’s “proficient” and “distinguished” teachers from being furloughed in favor of a teacher with more seniority who is rated “needs improvement” or “failing.” In the event two teachers have the same rating, seniority will still serve as the tiebreaker.
Rep. Bloom's legislation passed despite intense lobbying from government unions who placed the interests of 1.8 percent of non-proficient teachers over the needs of every other high-performing teacher in the state—and over the needs of students.
Attention now turns to the state Senate to approve HB 805. If the legislation passes the Senate, it will be up to Gov. Wolf to prioritize teachers over his biggest campaign contributors and sign the law.
One government union is putting its political preferences and self-interest above the interests of public school teachers. Now, teachers are fighting back.
Jane Ladley, who recently retired from teaching after 25 years, Chris Meier, who teaches in the Penn Manor School District, and Linda Misja (pictured), a language teacher at Apollo-Ridge High School, are suing the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) to win back control of their own money.
We brought you Jane and Chris's story last year, but here's a quick synopsis: In Pennsylvania, if public employees demonstrate a bona fide religious objection to compulsory unionism, as Jane, Chris and Linda have, they are not required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Instead, they can send their dues to an IRS approved charity.
But there's a problem. The PSEA is hijacking the religious objection process, and the Fairness Center (TFC), which is the group representing Jane and Chris in their lawsuit, explains why:
Now, the PSEA is telling Jane and Chris that it has a “policy” against allowing religious objectors to send their money to charities that they choose. According to the PSEA, Jane’s educational charity was too “political,” and Chris’s charity was a conflict of interest” because it represented teachers in separate, unrelated lawsuits against the PSEA.
Chris and Jane are currently waiting for a decision to be handed down by Common Pleas Court. Meanwhile, TFC filed a similar lawsuit against the PSEA today on behalf of Linda Misja, charging the union with the same transgression. Here's the background on Linda's case:
...Linda objected on religious grounds in 2012, the PSEA refused to let Linda send her money to a pro-life pregnancy center that, among other things, provides support to teenage mothers. Then the PSEA refused to allow her to send her money to the National Rifle Association Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charitable arm of the larger organization, which supports firearm safety education across the country.
In these three instances, the PSEA anointed itself the arbiter of what is political and made a calculated decision to put its self-interests ahead of public school teachers. Their intransigence has led to not only two lawsuits, but legislation to protect teachers' rights in the religious objection process.
House Bill 267, sponsored by Representative John Lawrence, would give religious objectors the freedom to choose a charity for their donation. After all, the money belongs to Jane, Chris, and Linda, not the PSEA.
Gov. Tom Wolf has wasted little time staking out his vision for public education, and it doesn’t appear to have much room for school choice.
In a recent opinion piece for The Sentinel, I explain how Pennsylvania’s new governor is hostile to innovative schools and wedded to the educational status quo.
First, the Wolf administration catered to anti-reform interests in the troubled School District of Philadelphia. After the city’s School Reform Commission (SRC) approved just a handful of new charter schools, Wolf stripped SRC Chairman Bill Green of his leadership position.
The governor’s message was unmistakable: even tepid support for charter schools will not be tolerated. It’s not as though charters secured a decisive victory in Philadelphia—34 of 39 charter applicants were rejected, leaving tens of thousands on waiting lists.
Still, this meager charter expansion was justification for Wolf to shuffle deck chairs at the SRC. Who was tapped to replace Green as chairman? Marjorie Neff, the only SRC member who voted against all 39 Philadelphia charter applicants.
The Wolf Doctrine on education is particularly detrimental to students who attend public cyber charter schools:
Wolf’s budget is even more punitive to cyber charter students, who disproportionately come from low-income families. For them, Wolf would slash current funding levels by one-third. While the state currently spends an average of $14,600 dollars per public school student, the governor would spend only $5,950 per cyber student.
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