Neshaminy teachers end boycott of extra duties

Posted: November 16, 2010

Neshaminy School District teachers on Monday ended a six-month work-to-contract action in which teachers refused to perform extra duties, such as writing college recommendation letters, attending back-to-school nights, and decorating classrooms.

"We have proven our point," said Louise Boyd, president of the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers. "Through work-to-contract, the district and community realize the invaluable role teachers and education professionals have in our school district."

The work slowdown capped almost 21/2 years of rancorous contract negotiations. Teachers have been working without a new contract since June 2008, and have not met with district negotiators since August.

But the plan to show how much extra unpaid work teachers do may have backfired. On Saturday afternoon, a small group of parents picketed against the teachers' actions in front of the old Eisenhower Elementary School on Woodbourne Road.

Boyd acknowledged that "the community was quite angry" at the work slowdown, but said the action successfully demonstrated that teachers work more than the seven hours a day for which they are paid.

School Board President Ritchie Webb said he hoped the union realized the extra-duty boycott "was the wrong thing to do."

Even though work-to-contract is legal, it "is certainly not right when it impacts 9,000 children," he said.

Since school started this fall, teachers had been doing only the basics. They didn't plan Halloween parties, decorate bulletin boards, or give before- and after-school help to struggling students.

Particularly troubling for nervous high school seniors was the threat that teachers would not write letters of recommendation for college.

But Boyd said some letters were written anyway.

"In some instances they were able to get done, in others they weren't," she said.

A taxpayers' group and some parents maintain the tactic felt like extortion, with students used as ransom in a bid for higher salaries and fully paid health insurance.

Charles Alfonso, a parent with children in Neshaminy High School and Maple Point Middle School, said teachers corrected homework in class, taking away from instructional time. As a result, the lessons went "extremely fast," he said, with "very little time for questions or explanation."

Larry Pastor, head of Taxpayers for a Fair Neshaminy School Budget, said teachers "have been hurting the 9,000 kids in the classroom by not giving them the full education they were entitled by [state] law."

"The union leadership expected the board and parents would cave. However, our community came together and said enough is enough to teachers that are already the highest compensated in Pennsylvania," he said.

Sixty-four percent of Neshaminy teachers earned more than $80,000, district officials reported last year to The Inquirer's Report Card on Schools. Only one other district in the region, Council Rock, had more teachers in that category.

The union is asking for raises over the next few years of 3 to 4 percent, retroactive pay to 2008, and fully funded health insurance.

The school board's last offer was for 1 percent annual raises, with teachers paying 15 to 17 percent of health-care costs.

Webb said Neshaminy was the only district he knew of that paid all health-insurance costs for teachers and their families until age 65, after a minimum of 10 years' work.

"It is a sweetheart deal," he said. "A one-of-a-kind deal."

The next negotiating session is scheduled Dec. 2.

While the union voted overwhelmingly to end the work-to-contract action, Boyd said, "it does not signal capitulation to the district's contract demands."


Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

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