Leaders of the Neshaminy (Pa.) Federation of Teachers say the local school board's unanimous vote on June 13 to approve the agreement on terms for a new contract with teachers should bring a fresh start for NFT members, the school district and the community.
"After more than five years of difficult and sometimes divisive negotiations, we are thrilled to conclude this process with an agreement that enables everyone on both sides to refocus and recommit ourselves to strengthening our community as a place where everyone is proud to say I live and work and learn in Neshaminy," says NFT President Louise Boyd.
"We all agree that educating Neshaminy children is our most important responsibility," she says. "For teachers, the students in our classrooms are what sustained us through many tough circumstances.
"This agreement is a chance for everyone devoted to the success of Neshaminy students—teachers, administrators, parents and community members—to come together and make a fresh start on fulfilling that mission," Boyd adds. "Everyone worked hard to make sure we found solutions to issues raised by both sides so that we can now move forward together."
NFT leaders noted that it has been a week of events that signify new beginnings, including Neshaminy High School's commencement exercises on June 12.
"Teachers are so proud of Neshaminy's newest graduates," says NFT vice president Anne Schmidt. "We have watched many of them grow and achieve new things since they were in elementary school. And just as they are commencing the next phase of their lives, it is time for our whole community to move ahead and begin a new chapter in the life of our school district."
NFT members ratified the deal in an overwhelming 487-21 vote on June 3. The new agreement runs through June 2015 and replaces the previous contract, which expired at the end of June 2008. Many teachers expressed their satisfaction at having a new agreement in place.
"What excites me most about a contract settlement is that the community, the teachers and the board have the opportunity to move forward and refocus our energy 100 percent on the students and programs," says Cara DeLorenzo, who teaches Spanish at Neshaminy High School. "My hope for our future is that positive morale is restored and that we realize working together and respecting each other's essential roles in the district is the most powerful and effective way to reach our goals as a district."
NFT leaders highlighted some of the terms that will be part of the new contract:
- The same class size limits as in previous contracts, along with new language addressing class size limits for classes serving special education students.
- A new salary schedule with compensation levels that will enable the Neshaminy district to continue to attract and retain good teachers.
- Mechanisms that guarantee teachers' input and an important role in school committees, so that teachers' professional expertise will continue to help shape education in Neshaminy schools. Teachers can continue to advocate for what students need, while recognizing that management has the final decision-making authority—as has been the case.
- Provisions folding in some aspects of previous memoranda of understanding into the new agreement, thus maintaining operational stability achieved through solutions that were carefully created by earlier administrations, teachers and staff.
- Language extending retirement benefits and conditions to all certified staff members who gave notice of retirement effective at the end of the school year—a commitment both sides felt it was important to honor.
Teachers and other certified staff says the agreement achieves a balance of educational values, financial considerations and professional standards, while acknowledging that there are some tough tradeoffs involved, including significant new costs to teachers for the district's health insurance plan.
"In the end, this is about moving forward," Boyd says. "The agreement honors our commitment to remain a key force in advocacy for students. We will continue working alongside parents and other community members to maintain transparent and responsible governance of our schools." [Neshaminy Federation of Teachers press release]
June 14, 2013