LETTER TO THE EDITOR – DISTRICT NEGOTIATIONS
NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (RVO) – The negotiations committee of the Redbank Valley School District wishes to provide a clear picture of our ongoing efforts to settle contracts with both our teachers and support staff. First and foremost, the negotiation committee has great respect for these district employees and recognizes that they are the most critical element in our educational mission. We are also steadfast in our belief that we must do everything in our power to preserve a balanced budget. The education of future Redbank students depends on it.
In recent years, the district has made tremendously painful cuts to positions and most recently to programs. Taxes have begun to be raised annually in order to bring our local taxes up from the bottom of state and regional tax rate listings. The salaries and benefits of district employees account for approximately 65% of the districts annual budget. As such, in order to prevent an unbalanced budget and the need for further program cuts, the district must limit the salaries and benefits we can offer at this time.
The District’s inability to obtain a balanced budget over the course of the last few years has resulted in our fund balance being cut in half from $8,567,447 at the start of the 2014-2015 school year to approximately $4 million. Our current fund balance, is within the recommended limit for our budget size. However, if the District is unable to balance the budget moving forward, our fund balance will continue to shrink, and could eventually be completely depleted in a matter of years. Notably, a fund balance is meant to be reserved for unplanned expenses, to balance cash flow needs and capital projects, like the roof and track placement. It is inevitable that at some point you will need to replace another roof, or a boiler, or provide for some other type of facility renovation. We cannot place the District back where reoccurring expenditures exceed reoccurring revenues without expecting more educational program cuts.
Recent federal grant monies related to the pandemic are being allocated to the Districts needs, particularly the increase in cyber school expenses. These are onetime and temporary funds. From a budgetary standpoint, these funds should not be used as an excuse to take on new reoccurring expenses like salary increases. Use of these funds to supplant or pay ongoing expenses or further increase the District’s deficit.
In accordance with these principles, we have continued to work with vigor towards contract settlements that adequately compensated staff while preserving a balance budget. Most recently, we offered teachers and support staff a pay freeze in one year (July 2019 – June 2020) of the contract in exchange for no changes to health insurance benefits. In year two (July 2020 – June 2021) of the contracts, we offered a $1000 bonus to every teacher and support staff member in exchange for a co-pay changes in the last months of the current school year. In years three and four of the contract, we offer teachers 2% raises each year and support staff $.40 and $.42 cent per hour raises in those years respectively. In those final two contract years we asked that employees pay co-pays for medical services after their deductible is met and that employees pay an additional 10% of their deductible. Instead of the district paying 55% of the teachers health insurance deductible and 76% of a support members deductible, we would pay 45% for a teacher and 60% for a support member. Employees would still not have to pay any of their health insurance premium throughout the contract.
Our contract offer with increase expenses by over a half million dollars that could be balanced by increasing local taxes to the projected annual maximum and getting additional state tax dollars each year comparable to recent annual increases. This maintains a balance budget over the life of the contract. Conversely, the employee associations together have asked for terms that would increase expenses by over a million dollars over the life of the contract, leading to an unbalanced budget and the potential for more cuts to educational programming.
Despite not reaching an agreement yet, the negotiations committee and entire school board remains committed to reaching a settlement. The board wishes to avoid a strike if possible by continuing to negotiate in good faith, but we will stick to the principles that we have outlined here. We ask the community members speak to their board representatives and our employees about their opinions and ideas.
Chad Shaffer on behalf of the Redbank Valley School Boards Negotiations Committee
Redbank Valley School District provides education services for the 165 square mile area of New Bethlehem and Hawthorn boroughs, and the townships of Mahoning, Madison, Porter, and Redbank of both Clarion and Armstrong counties.
The Redbank Valley School Board meetings the first Monday of every month at 7pm at the High School Library.
For more information about the Redbank Valley School District, please call 814.275.2426 or visit RedbankValley.org/pg/biz/redbank-valley-school-district