Parents Organize Community Forum About Contract Talks
19 Sep 2012 — Bucks County Courier Times By Christian Menno/Staff writer
With the contract impasse between the Neshaminy teachers and the school board now in its fifth academic year, community interest continues to grow.
Public board meetings and statements issued by both parties after negotiation sessions offer parents and taxpayers the chance to keep up with the latest developments.
But for some, that isn't enough.
So, in an attempt to provide some clarity on the many complex issues, parents Angie Manning and Ed MacConnell have organized a community forum.
The event will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at Twining Hall in Bensalem.
So far, only school board President Ritchie Webb has confirmed his participation, though Manning said she has invited officials from the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers as well as local and state politicians. She said she doesn't expect state Rep. Frank Farry, R-142, or any other state lawmakers to attend, since the House of Representatives is scheduled to be in session that day.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching NFT officials for comment Monday and Tuesday.
Webb will take questions from the audience beginning at 6:30 p.m.
This is the second Neshaminy forum Manning has helped put together. Webb and school board attorney met with community members outside of Oliver Heckman Elementary School in July.
"There were a lot of parents that heard about the first (gathering) but just couldn't make it," said Manning, a public school teacher in New Jersey. "The big thing now is the latest offer from the board that's based on the Council Rock (School District) teacher contract. There is just so much miscommunication out there and people have a lot of questions. Hopefully, this will be a chance for the public to come out and ask those questions."
Manning has been a vocal supporter of the school board throughout the impasse and said that she expects the majority of the crowd at Monday's forum will be as well. However, she added, all views will be welcomed.
"We will not tolerate disrespectfulness, regardless of where you stand," she said. "If you cannot follow that rule, then I don't want you involved. There might be differing opinions, but we have to remember that when this is all over we have to get along as it will be our kids attending these schools."
Her main concern, Manning said, is keeping the children out of the often contentious and bitter conflict.
She said that her main objections to the NFT have been the decisions to work to contract and to strike.
Added Manning: "If (teachers) are strong in their beliefs and honest with themselves, then I can't question their views (regarding the negotiations). But I can question the decision to strike and what effect that has on a child's education."
Manning works for the Burlington County's Chesterfield Township School District, which endured its own contract impasse in 2010, she said.
"I refused to work to contract and was shunned by some (teachers) for that," she added. "I would have refused to strike if (teacher strikes) were legal in New Jersey."
Since the dispute, Manning has become a membership chairwoman for her union, the Chesterfield Township Education Association.
She said that while information and transparency are important in keeping the Neshaminy community informed about contract talks, she admitted that the public nature of the impasse could be preventing some progress at the same time.
"I like the way it was handled (in Chesterfield)," Manning said, adding that the parties there agreed not to comment publicly on the negotiations. "When both sides had hammered out everything they felt needed to be in the deal, then a special meeting was called to reveal it to the public before each side voted (to approve or not)."
But it is likely too late for that sort of approach to develop between the two sides in Neshaminy, Manning said.
"More than anything," she said, "I wish we could go back in time five years, wave a magic wand and just have this whole thing settled before it got to this point."
"Parents organize community forum about contract talks" Bucks County Courier Times 19 Sep 2012: A8