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Barnett responds to Redbank Valley Teacher Strike

NEW BETHLEHEM (RVO) – Mr. Jason Barnett submitted the following letter to the editor regarding the Redbank Valley School District Teacher Strike.

“Dear Community members, Students, Teachers, Taxpayer, and Other interested parties,

My name is Jason Barnett and I have served as a Redbank Valley School Board member since 2018 and I have also served on the negotiating committee for the entire time of the contract negotiation.

I want to start by saying first that I have refrained from making public comments regarding the ongoing status of the less than successful contract negotiations.  Not because I am not comfortable with my position, but rather because of negative impact it has on the community and the negative public perception of teachers that results.  I have just wanted to take the high road and work through things at the table.  Many times, I have found myself to be negotiating against both sides with the hope of coming to a reasonable settlement that the district can afford.  We are closer than when we started but still pretty far apart.

In the past couple weeks staying silent has become increasing difficult as the public releases from the Union, it’s representative, or whoever is releasing them have become so far from the reality of what is actually occurring.  I am at a loss that the Union could or would release statements so misleading and dishonest.  I know many of these people and consider them to be good honest, upstanding people.  I just can’t process them standing by and letting someone be downright dishonest with the information releases.  I understand the intent, cause as much community chaos as possible, but I can’t agree with it.  It’s almost like a “the end justifies the means” approach.

Let’s start with the most recent and work backwards.

Explore Clarion quote 9/13/21 (Patrick Adrekovich)

“Dr. Shaffer told us they won’t have a response until September 22, I think was the date. I don’t know the hold up on their end.”

My Recollection: The district indicated we needed until the week of the 20th to have a proposal ready.  I personally believe I am the hold up on the district’s end for this and will take responsibility for the delay.  My reason for requesting at the August 30th meeting that our next meeting be scheduled after September 17th was pure selfishness.  I am a CPA by trade and the S-corporation and Partnership tax extensions are due September 15th.  Couple that with the fact that my staff accountant has been out since early August due to Covid and I have been doing the work two of us would normally be doing and you have the perfect storm.  Anyway, I was the hold up on the district not being ready until the week of the 20th.  I do put a lot of time into my position as a school board member but I also have a firm and a family that require some of my time.

September 12, 2021 from the RVEA

Good Afternoon,

RVEA would like to address the rumors of a proposed meeting with the Board this evening.  We did attempt to schedule a meeting with the Board for tonight.  However, we were told by attorney Bob Zaruta, that Board “did not have a formal proposal for us” but they would be willing to discuss “narrowing the gap” between the proposals.  When we left the meeting on September 8, the Board assured us they would have a comprehensive proposal for both RVEA and RVESP.  (Balance of post can be seen on their Facebook page)

My Recollection:  The state appointed mediator requested both parties consider holding another meeting over the weekend prior to the strike.  The district agreed to do so at his request and indicated we would make ourselves available.  Sunday afternoon the union notified us they were not willing to meet if we did not have a formal COUNTER proposal (several formal proposals have been exchanged by both sides throughout the process).  I guess it would help to make it clear to everyone that the union is awaiting a counter proposal to their last offer.  We indicated to them at the August 30th we would have a formal proposal available after September 17th.

September 9, 2021 from the RVEA

EDUCATION: The Redbank Valley Education Association and the Redbank Valley Educations Support met to negotiate with the Redbank Valley School Board on the evening of Wednesday, September 8.  The RVEA and the RVESP met with the board in multiple sidebar discussions.  Less than a week before a strike, the school board come to the meeting with no proposal.

In discussions, the school board requested for the RVEA to find another $140,000 savings in addition to the concessions that the RVEA has already offered.  Unfortunately, a settlement was not reached.

There are no meeting schedule at this time.  The RVEA notified the school board of their willingness to meet again to negotiate between now and Monday.  The school board informed the RVEA they will be available to meet the last week of September.

My Recollection: The board did request the union to work through the numbers with us that would bring the total costs of the contract down.  I guess it would be fair to say though, as part of that we were looking at adding costs to our proposal that would bring a total costs to somewhere of a compromise between the associations proposal and the district’s.  Truthfully, my thought was that exchanging proposals for two and half years really didn’t seem to be working that well and maybe just having an open collaborative discussion would breath fresh air into the process.  I was wrong.

The last paragraph of the post did not occur at all during the meeting of September 8th.  The association made no offer of a meeting and the district did not reject any offer of the meeting.  The only discussion of another meeting was the mediator indicating he would most likely request another meeting over the weekend.  I am not sure where they came up with that part of the statement.

Patrick Adrekovich Statement per the Courier Express

“We met with the Board last night and they came with nothing, again. They did not bring a proposal or response to the most recent offers from RVEA and RVESP. Instead, Dr. Shaffer told us we needed to find an additional $140,000 in concessions (more Co-Pays) or there was no need to continue to meet. The additional $140,000 request would be in addition to the 2-year salary scale freezes, reduction in (HSA) contributions, dental insurance changes, and the implementation of Co-Pays RVEA has already proposed to save the District over $1.2 million dollars. Dr. Shaffer also told us that they will not agree to language being proposed to force the Board and the Association to work together to find an alternative health care provider to help contain health care costs moving forward.

“Jason Barnett, Board Team Member, did tell us they may be willing to spend some of the current $3.8 million dollar fund balance, the $1.2 million dollar surplus from 2020-21 school year, or use some of the $3.4 million dollars in stimulus funds they will receive. He did not give a specific amount of that $8 million dollars they are willing to use.

“RVEA is available to meet at any time, but the Board told us they are not available until the last week of September.

My Recollection:  The language in question to “force the Board and Association to work together to find and alternative health provider” is quite a stretch.  The district has been supportive of exploring different health consortium options, it’s actually something I recommended early on.  The language they are referring to, not listed of course, was to end all co-pays at the end of the contract.  Maybe a statement something more like, we tried to implement language sun-setting all co-pays at the end of the contract to encourage the district to move plans would have been more accurate, but it doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous.

Paragraph 2, the district did indicate a willingness to use ESSRS or fund balance to possibly fund non-recurring items to improve the districts offer.  Any reference to specific numbers regarding surplus or fund balance was not from me, as we are awaiting the audited results of the 2020-2021 fiscal year.  That would be the RVEA blending different items to attempt to improve the aesthetics of their statement.

I could go back further, but in the interest of time I will limit this to what has occurred in the last month.  The information being released is being manipulated for self-serving purposes.  I challenge everyone involved be honest and factual.  Leave the name calling and half-truths out of it.  The sides are just too far apart right now, let the facts stand on their own.  The people of our community are smart intelligent people who can look at the facts and make their own assessment, the theatrics are not necessary.  It’s simple, what the district feels they can afford based on revenue increase projections and what the union feels they can get their membership to support just don’t line up.  With the opportunity to negotiate comes the possibility of the parties not agreeing.

I hope the above provides our community members, our students, our teachers and any other interested parties with a fairer assessment of what is really happening.  Should either party feel anything I have authored above is incorrect or does not represent the actual facts I would be more than willing to review that with them and offer a correction if necessary but I am pretty confident it provides an accurate representation of what has actually happened over the last month.

Also, the disclaimer:  These are my thoughts and represent only that.  They are not an official statement of any entity or organization!

Sincerely,

Jason R Barnett, CPA

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