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Pastor March OP-ED

Posted on October 21, 2010 at 9:45 PM

Is it just me or have politicians become almost indistinguishable.

 

Recently State Rep. Frank Farry-R142 spoke to this paper, addressing constituent concerns about the Neshaminy School District’s budget, union contract negotiations and increasing taxes. His perplexing comments gave us more insight into Farry than the issues.

 

 

What stood out was the revelation that he discussed contract terms with Support Staff union leaders. It is troubling that Farry did this without the knowledge of the board president and lead negotiator, who is also a Republican. In a misuse of his influential position, is Farry lobbying for union support while at the same time potentially jeopardizing taxpayer savings associated with privatizing services?

 

Ignoring facts and presenting only negatives, Farry dismisses outsourcing school support services. He favors a union agreement saving only $4M over 5 years with minimal impact on deficits. The fact is, privatizing busing, custodial and other services saves $31.5M over 5 years. In addition, district employees KEEP their jobs! One final pesky fact is our $22M deficit over the last two years. Farry thinks we should not pursue $31.5M savings so his union cronies keep district benefits while taxpayers, not to mention educational programs, suffer. How many additional tax dollars does Farry want to give away to other union friends? Instead of pandering to union voters,

Farry should butt out and start standing up for taxpayer’s and student’s needs.

 

Fary also offers little on desperately needed Public School Employee Retirement (PSERS) reform. Instead of focusing on alleviating tax burdens, his ill-advised suggestion is to use short term stimulus subsidies for education, shifting local taxes to long term funding of massive pension shortfalls created in Harrisburg.

 

Farry himself states “Harrisburg is a disorganized mess”. However, the “mess”, was created by both party’s representatives, who like him, refuse to stand up against public worker unions and higher taxes. Farry, who proudly takes union money says he will “sign on” to bills and leaves legislative leadership to Democrats.

 

Remarkably, he has NOT “signed on” to important legislation banning teacher’s strikes, as 37 states already have passed. I expect this from his likely opponent, Democrat John Toth, whose party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Teachers’ union, not Farry.

 

Toth, a former Democrat Committeeman, recently spoke at Neshaminy’s school board’s meeting only weeks before announcing his candidacy. Displaying a blatant disregard for resident’s concerns, he admitted rarely attending board meetings. He shamelessly manipulated this forum for press coverage along with weeks of TV exposure on NSDTV as he planned his campaign.

 

In a prepared pro-Democrat speech he attacked me personally, however his diatribe was really thinly veiled sour grapes about his incumbent SB candidate and buddy, big spender and pro-teacher union Bill Spitz, unexpectedly losing his seat last November. He’s obviously quite perturbed about our Taxpayers for a Fair Neshaminy Budget’s “NFT Union-Enough is enough” truth advertisement in the voter’s guide, that helped educate taxpayers who subsequently rejected Spitz. As an aside, in an awkward case of acute “sore loseritis”, Spitz recently wrote here exhibiting his inability to gracefully accept defeat by also desperately lashing out at me with baseless and false accusations intended to silence my voice. Consequently, the paper had to publish corrections to his fabricated assertions.

 

Toth, a partisan, attacks those who challenge the status quo of the age-old Democrat Party-Teacher Union’s education monopoly. Democrats are financed by teacher union funded PACs(all public unions), and benefit greatly from this incestuous relationship. They do the teacher’s bidding by thwarting education reform, opposing accountability through teacher performance merit pay and preventing innovative vouchers and charter school expansion. Generous teacher entitlements and lifetime tenure are vigorously defended as Democrats ignore broken public schools that produce inferior results.

 

While Pennsylvania hemorrhages money, public unions operate unabated with dues expended to elect lawmakers. They relentlessly lobby, to preserve the status quo that also benefits compliant legislators who succumb to insatiable appetites for lobbyist money. Around us services crumble and no one represents bleeding taxpayers.

 

We need and deserve honest committed leaders with courage and most of all, independence, that will take a stand and work for all the people not just a “special” few.

 

Anyone who believes change and leadership will come with either of these two in office, well they must still believe in the TothFarry!!

Fairness for taxpayers; let union workers join the real world

Posted on April 10, 2010 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By Larry Pastor

As Published in the Bucks County Courier Times February 03, 2010

 

Last June, I implored the Neshaminy school board to consider retirees and struggling residents who've taken pay cuts or are out of work and losing their homes - all severely overburdened taxpayers.

 

I again ask the question: "Will the board have courage to not raise taxes in the middle of a persistent economic crisis?" Last year, the answer was no!

 

Surprise, we have another $7.3 million budget deficit resulting primarily from rising premium costs of the free health care we still provide district employees. Now begins the debate on what to cut. If history is a guide, the board, after threatening a huge tax increase, will work it down to 2.9 percent, the 2010 Act 1 limit. They will declare victory and give us a tax hike accompanied by further degradation of Neshaminy's educational programs and quality.

 

The answer needs to be no increase. Besides all the obvious reasons, it is critically important for the board to now avoid raising taxes due to the pending mammoth mandatory tax increase to "bail out" the woefully underfunded Public School Employees' Retirement System.

 

I am hopeful this time, with three new directors joining those on the board who are also fiscally responsible and sensitive to taxpayers' burden, the outcome will be different. With demonstrable electoral support to act boldly in the interests of students and taxpayers, they have a clear mandate to hold firm on union contracts. As we all know, without substantial labor concessions they will never have money to focus on much needed educational enhancements.

 

Here are two big challenges facing the board:

 

In a relentless display of greed, after 18 months without a contract, the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers (NFT) appears to have no interest in negotiating. That is, unless the board concedes up front on continued free health care (Rolls Royce plan) and 6 percent annual pay increases. The board made a more than fair offer of 3 percent annual raise, with a phased in 15-17 percent health care contribution. The union laughably accuses the board of not negotiating fairly. We now know that their definition of "fair negotiating" is we give teachers whatever they demand. Sound familiar?

 

Hanging on the NFT's coat tails is the Neshaminy Support Staff union (NESPA), which may end up a casualty of the teachers contract. Rejecting the board's generous offer, the union chose instead to cling to an unrealistic demand for free health care. Subsequent to this, due to pending deficits, the board sought outside bids. The first one received, custodial services, would save the district $9 million over three years. After finding this level of overpayment for union labor, they pursued busing and discovered that along with custodial the total savings to taxpayers is $30 million over five years. Wow! Who knew?

 

With the district under financial duress, this board has difficult decisions ahead. Members need to determine if the priority is to ensure tax dollars go to employ support staff union workers with unaffordable free health care and full retirement benefits; or, is it to focus on improving our children's education experience? The district doesn't have the money for both.

 

Most employees would be rehired by a contracted services company; however, in this desperate game of "Chicken" the NESPA union leaders have forced a serious choice that may result in some wage and job loss for members. Ironically, now that outsourcing looks more certain - like our district's potential loss of educational and extracurricular programs to balance the budget - all of this can be pinned primarily on the NFT's union leader's demands for a continued extravagant teachers contract. I wonder how teachers would be behaving if their jobs could be outsourced?

 

Union leaders should come to their senses and accept the board's offer if they still can. There is no money to provide what taxpayers themselves no longer have. I know it is difficult for these union workers to grasp the reality of paying their share, but this is how people in the real world, including ALL private sector union workers, have lived for decades as they struggle to pay their ever-increasing high taxes and escalating health care premiums, save for their own retirements (no bailout), and hold onto jobs and houses.

 

As a simple matter of "fairness" there should no longer be a superior class of benefits and entitlements for public union workers who are paid with taxpayers' precious dollars.

 

Some things never change but I hope this time they do!

 

We've had it with unrealistic demands

Posted on April 10, 2010 at 1:22 PM Comments comments (0)

As Published in the Bucks County Courier Times November 23, 2009

By Larry Pastor

 

For over a year, many of us have been expressing our disgust regarding the expired Neshaminy teachers contract and, more importantly, the outrageous demands teachers continue to make for a new contract. This display of greed, at the expense of taxpayers suffering through the worst economy since the Great Depression, is exploitation at a level not seen before.

 

However, on Nov. 3 voters served notice on the National Federation of Teachers and their local president, Louise Boyd. "We have had it with your complete disregard for the community and your out of touch contract demands."

 

District voters elected three new school board directors. We look forward to the fresh perspectives and leadership of Bill Oettinger, Mike Morris and Scott Congdon. Further, we are delighted that former Democrat Irene Boyle won another term. I believe this change will help us reclaim our educational system from a union whose maniacal focus remains on self-enrichment not educational improvements.

 

From the day we entered the debate on our budget and the teachers contract, I believed that our community could stand up to the union. The difference maker this time was that voters were informed about the contract demands of the NFT and acted on that knowledge at the polls.

 

Consequently, Neshaminy School District taxpayers took a major step forward in what will likely be a long difficult journey. You have demonstrated that we can organize and have an impact locally to "stop the union in its tracks." However, we must be vigilant and prepared. When the NFT doesn't succeed in getting their way, their tactics include intimidating the school board, disrupting back to school nights, continuing to wear antagonistic NFT shirts in classrooms and then striking. Therefore, we need to steel ourselves for the coming months and years, to guarantee an acceptable outcome for taxpayers.

 

Many of us remember when private sector workers enjoyed annual raises, free healthcare and company-funded retirement plans. In those days taxpayers could afford to pay for underpaid public workers. That is no longer the reality of the American worker. So why is it that they keep demanding water from our dry well? Simply put, there is no money to meet their demands even if they were reasonable. In fact, the contract offer the board has made is no longer affordable in the budget. The money is just not there!

 

So in these desperate economic times ask a few important questions as we move forward and support our new fiscally responsible board:

 

Have you received a raise?

Teachers are demanding salary increases of 6-7 percent with steps per year.

 

Do you pay for healthcare?

Teachers don't. Teachers are demanding continued free healthcare coverage.

 

Do you have the best healthcare plan offered?

Teachers do! Along with a premium prescription drug plan costing an extra $1 million per year.

 

Have you lost healthcare?

Teachers can't and have paid retiree healthcare after only 10 years.

 

Have you lost your job?

Teachers cannot be laid off for financial conditions, or fired for performance or strikes.

 

Have you lost your traditional pension plan or have no pension?

Teachers have a rare taxpayer-funded defined benefit plan plus a 403(b) account.

 

Are you getting bailed out for your decreased 401(k) value?

Teachers' pension is guaranteed by taxpayers. That will cost us $1.5 million in 2010 and skyrocket in 2011-13.

 

Do you get a bonus to retire?

Teachers are demanding a $30,000 bonus to retire whenever they want.

 

Do you get a raise if you do not perform?

Of course you don't, but teachers do!

 

As public employees, all teachers' salary and benefits are publicly available. Over 75 percent of our budget is labor costs, so go to www.nsdteachers.com to see costs. With these contract demands, per teacher cost and

pending pension refunding taxation, taxpayers can no longer support this level of compensation and the well heeled NSD teachers.

 

Now that the election is over we are recommending that the new board put a time limit on the current offer.

 

When it expires, if the NFT has not accepted, pull the offer. They should then revamp it to better reflect the financial distress our school district and taxpayers are experiencing every day.

 

Elections have consequences!

 

Does Neshaminy have the courage not to raise taxes?

Posted on April 10, 2010 at 1:17 PM Comments comments (0)

By Larry Pastor

As Published in the Bucks County Courier Times June 16, 2009

 

As predicted, the Neshaminy school board is getting ready once again to punish taxpayers. After producing a $14 million budget deficit, members told us taxes could increase 12.5 percent. In May, they announced $10 million in cuts resulting in only a 3.6 percent increase and that we should be happy now. Really?

I feel like a man who is threatened with having both his arms sawed off and then expected to jump for joy when told he will only have to lose one.

 

How predictable. The 3.6 percent is under the Act I cap of 4.1 percent. Do they not realize this is real money and financial pain for a struggling community? Do they know our local unemployment rate is approaching 8 percent, up from 3.7 percent in 2008, and foreclosures are triple what they were two years ago? Do they understand taxpayer anger is at an all-time high?

 

Let's be clear, this board has no strategic plan. The proof is the $14 million deficit, the scramble to cut $10 million and no concern for the impact of a pending tax trifecta:

 -New teacher/staff contracts or, worse, the ongoing expense of the current one.

 -Public workers, pension refunding mandated tax increases.

 -Reduced tax revenues from falling home values.

 

At the May meeting, I asked our superintendent a simple question: "What cuts were needed for a zero increase?" No answer. So he just takes for granted that another tax increase is acceptable? As the owners of our school district, why should his $10 million solution to our $14 million problem go unchallenged?

 

Apparently, prodding from citizens and "some" board members resulted in Superintendent Louis Muenker announcing the increase of 3.3 percent (progress) and that suddenly, according to notes I took at a recent meeting, 11 areas for potential cuts were identified.

 

He knew, of course, with a June deadline there is no time for consideration of the $7 million more in savings. All require analysis; however, the cost of three line items, totaling nearly $4 million, stood out: elementary guidance counselors and reading specialist at $1.8 million and $1.4 million respectively, as well as nearly $1 million for elementary school librarians. The board should review these for need and/or staff size. However, due to poor planning and Muenker's delays, none of these will be scrutinized.

 

As we watch the board kick the can down the road in the name of "education quality," it reminds us this has been its argument for 20 years of annual increases. We heard this repeatedly as the board threw our money in the $14 million hole it dug. Unfortunately, district results to date, as measured in relative student performance, and therefore teacher performance, in no way demonstrates an acceptable return on our investment.

 

That brings us to our biggest problem. If you don't know by now, there is no tolerance for the current teachers' contract that includes no contribution toward health benefits, a gold-plated retirement plan and excessive salaries. And if they get their new outrageous contract demands, it will then leave taxpayers without arms or legs.

 

The question for the board and teachers is this: How can you, in good conscience, continue to burden taxpayers year after year? The answer appears to be questionable fiscal management on the board's part. As for Neshaminy teachers, of which a whopping 65 percent do not live in our district, well, sorry to say it is indefensible greed at public expense.

 

Board President Rich Webb has committed publicly that he won't "budge" on his proposed teachers contract. I am now calling on him to take time to review new cuts and make the tough decisions the board is elected to make. Cut $4 million to provide relief to a community already penalized on taxes for years and now impacted with a deep recession.

 

Any tax increase in 2009 is simply unconscionable. Union teachers and support staff have to share in pain with residents.

 

Unlike some other school districts' employees who are partnering with their community, Neshaminy teachers are shamelessly self-interested. To paraphrase board member Frank Koziol's statement at the last meeting:

 

Uniquely tough times call for unique sacrifice from everyone.

 

Tell irresponsible unions, school boards our pockets are empty

Posted on April 10, 2010 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

As Published in the Bucks County Courier Times April 28, 2009

By LARRY PASTOR JR.

 

The moment of truth is approaching. This was announced at the Neshaminy board meeting when Joe Paradise, the school district's business manager, stated, "The preliminary budget will be out April 28 and there will be something for everyone to hate in this budget." As the guardian of spending no one understands the tyranny of the numbers better.

 

When he says "everyone," I have more than a suspicion that he means every one of us taxpayers will yet again shoulder the pain caused by past and current failures in fiscal responsibility.

 

However, taxpayers need to understand the reason our budget is so painful. Escalating personnel costs in our district now comprise nearly 80 percent of the expense. This is predominately unionized personnel, aka teachers and staff. Their excessive past contracts, including rich benefits, have put us in a $14 million deficit and this will likely be severely exasperated by the outrageous demands in the next contract.

 

Read every page of the last collective bargaining agreement (an extension of the 1998 contract) from 2002 and you will see contracted pay, benefits and perks that will absolutely drive you crazy - especially now. Amazingly, in the ongoing renegotiation, the most highly compensated teachers and staff in Bucks County (top 10 in Pennsylvania), now are demanding much more.

 

When he says "something," we ALL will hate, it is code for the draconian cuts the board will be forced to make to close the budget gaps resulting from the elephant in the room - out of control employee costs. The teachers rejected a perfectly decent offer the board made last year and one the administrators recently accepted. This included a generous 3 percent annual increase and a diminished yet still rich benefits package. They should have grabbed it since now, given the deteriorating economy, this package is now even more unaffordable for the district.

 

The National Federation of Teachers and its members didn't compromise, but instead insisted on demanding a 4 percent increase plus steps totaling 6 percent annually, zero employee contribution to the exponentially increasing budget health care costs, continued defined benefit retirement plan, including full non-participatory health care in retirement, retirement bonuses of $30,000 vs. the current $27,000 (who gets this in the real world?), a longevity bonus (WHAT? You have to be kidding?) and many other benefits that no other Pennsylvania district still provides.

 

Just think, if the offer the board made is unaffordable, what if they now get a compromised middle ground deal or worse, their demands? You won't be able to cut enough elsewhere and we will be in deeper deficit spending and escalating annual tax increases as far as the eye can see.

 

A petition circulating in the district on behalf of taxpayers for a Fair Neshaminy Budget, so far signed by several hundred taxpayers and growing, has demanded the board withdraw its offer and make a significantly reduced one with much lower long-term cost to taxpayers. Many more are speaking up at school board meetings.

 

When the board recommends cuts in programs that will negatively impact the children of the district (remember them?), don't direct all your displeasure at board members. Their hands have been tied by unions and lawmakers so they do what state laws permit. Instead, focus blame on the teachers and union leaders. The possible reduction in educational quality will now rest with them as they make their needs preeminent to ours.

 

Many are uncomfortable that these facts are being called out publicly, but unfortunately this powerful group has brought it on themselves as they simply have no defense of the demands. Please know that if the union wins, everyone else loses. It will lead not only to continued massive tax increases, but also to potentially major reductions in very popular programs. Ironically, to secure their demands, union leadership will throw some teachers over the side due to program elimination.

 

I don't know about you, but I have had it with irresponsible unions, school boards and politicians who assume our pockets are deep enough to pay all the bills they sign up for? People continue to fatten up at the public trough when the rest of us can now least afford it. Fair compensation in line with current private sector offerings is acceptable but communities should no longer have to subsidize the excessive packages that teachers and other public workers demand through their powerful unions. If the madness doesn't stop, our children and grandchildren will be left with the increasingly noncompetitive public education system we have now - and taxes that make Europe look like a bargain.

 

Join the fight. Speak at tonight's board meeting. Vote on May 19 for candidates who support taxpayers.

 

Will teachers stand with us as members of the community?

Posted on April 10, 2010 at 1:05 PM

By Larry Pastor

As Published in the Bucks County Courier Times March 12, 2009

 

I know many of you are pleased that the Neshaminy school board is standing up to the outrageous contract proposal from the teachers. It's a relief for you to read articles, letters to the editor and guest opinions that express shared anger over teachers' avaricious demands.

 

You've likely been upset for years about the ridiculously high taxes you've been paying for teachers' excessive pay and benefits. And, of course, you know that, by rejecting the most recent board offer, teachers have once again confirmed that they are not in any way concerned about your family's financial stress.

 

If you've had the opportunity to attend board meetings, you probably have noticed the abundance of teachers present. You can't miss the T-shirts signifying their commitment to digging even deeper into your pockets. You may have also noticed teachers have yet to defend their demands.

 

Do they continue to stand with the union against their neighbors? Or, do they now step up and support their community? How can they, through this arrogant sense of entitlement, disregard the financial hardships that everyone now faces? How can they ask more of financially strapped retired and elderly, struggling families, many with single parents trying to make ends meet and all those who have lost pay and jobs?

 

Can they ask their neighbors to pay more so they can continue benefits and raises nearly non-existent in other professions? Are they willing to be the cause of extreme cutbacks in important programs for all of our children, just to get more for their own families?

 

As the country braces for the days to come, are the teachers not in this with us? After a generation of rebuilding the reputation of the teaching profession, do they really want to flush all of the goodwill away due to their inflexible greed? Will any of them have the courage and moral conviction to stand up against what is so obviously wrong?

 

Each one, as an individual, not as a union member, will have to answer these questions.

 

Tax increases over two decades have resulted in our teachers being among the highest paid in the state and enjoying one of the richest contracts in the country. Beyond a point of fair compensation, which our teachers contract exceeded years ago, it is proven that money has diminishing returns on improving teacher quality.

  

Now that contract negotiations are at a crucial point, taxpayers need to speak in "unison" that teachers have to adapt to our changing world. Unfortunately, the board and district residents are at a significant disadvantage to the union due to the following:

 

1) By law the district collects union dues through payroll deduction then sends a check to the union.

2) Non-union teachers are required to pay fair share (80 percent) dues as a condition of employment.

3) The union has secured exclusive bargaining rights.

4) Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states still permitting teacher strikes.

 

Why are these things important? Money from forced dues fuels union power over the board. The well-paid union leadership uses the money to prevent the election of fiscally responsible board members and politicians who will stand up for the taxpayer. Vast amounts of money are used to ensure the laws are written to give them maximum advantage over boards and taxpayers. Finally, dues support strikes when their demands are not met.

 

The union wields a very big club against its own teachers and taxpayers alike. Now through legalized extortion, every few years we allow them to beat the school board and all of us into submission.

 

In the meantime what can taxpayers do?

Get mad as hell and tell them you won't take it anymore!

Organize any size group you can and contact the board

Come to board meetings, www.neshaminyinfo.blogspot.com.

Demand the board withdraw the contract offer teachers rejected.

Support a much reduced counteroffer and dismissal if they strike.

Tell the board you want district collection of union dues to stop.

Demand future negotiations are visible to the public and any contract is presented at a public hearing before anybody approves it.

Vote in the May 19 primary for board candidates who support taxpayers.

 

If each taxpayer gets engaged, in any small way possible, we can make a difference. With enough of our voices, we will be heard and together we can make a stand.