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PA: Teachers’ union accidentally reveals plan to undercut Bucks school board

By   /   July 19, 2012  /   1 Comment

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – A citizens’ group supported by a local teachers’ union in Bucks County wants to rearrange how seats on the Pennsbury School Board are distributed.

But there’s more to this story, which is filled with intrigue and plot twists.

Simon Campbell, a member of the school board and one of the state’s leading critics of teachers’ unions, says the proposal is secretly an attempt to remove him and one of his colleagues from the board. Doing so would eliminate the majority Campbell has built and give control back to pro-union members.

School districts in Bucks County. Pennsbury School District is located in the southeast corner of the county, along the Delaware River.

“I think they are trying to get me out of the way and also get the school board majority out of the way,” he said  Wednesday.

A school board member since 2005, Campbell has built a majority on the board to implement a series of reforms opposed by the Pennsbury Education Association, the local teachers’ union.

Documents filed in court by the Concerned Residents of Pennsbury, the union-backed group pushing for the one of the two new apportionments plan, seemingly back Campbell’s concerns.

In a letter filed with the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, along with other court filings related to redrawing the district lines, local teachers’ union president George Miller writes that rearranging the way members are elected to the school board would make it “virtually impossible for Campbell to maintain his majority position on the board.

In a separate memo also filed with the court, former local teachers’ union president John McDonnell – who is leading the CROP effort – writes that the new plan “provides the opportunity to cut off the head of the snake by denying Campbell a seat to run for. Why not go for the kill?”

Campbell said he was “appalled and horrified” by the content of the letters and the language used by the union heads.

Miller did not return requests for comment, nor could McDonnell be reached.

Much like the way in which the state is carved into legislative districts for the House and Senate, so too is Pennsbury School District — divided into three so-called “regions” for the purpose of determining representation on the school board. Each region votes for three members on the nine-member board.

Like the state level, the regions in the school district must be redrawn every few years to keep an equal number of residents in each district.

A proposed plan from the union-backed citizens’ group would realign the district into nine regions, with one board member from each. Under their proposal, Campbell and two members of his majority on the board would be drawn into a single region, leaving two of them without a chance to win re-election.

As part of the effort to get the new plan approved, CROP submitted to the court a petition with more than 3,800 signatures.

David Truelove, the lawyer representing CROP, said the petition was circulated after Campbell’s majority on the school board voted down resident comments on the board’s new plan for the districts’ electoral regions.

“Campbell is once again trying to divert attention from the real issue: which plan complies most closely with the school code requirements,” Truelove wrote in an email to PA Independent on Thursday.

Campbell said the union-backed proposal is an attempt to “get rid of duly-elected officials” through the court system “because they know they cannot do it at the ballot box.”

Again, Miller’s letter to Burridge appears to support those claims.

In the letter, Miller says the union’s “prospects in the 2013 municipal election look bleak with Campbell on track to increase his power to a 6/3 majority that would be in place until at least 2015.”

It’s not surprising unions should want to rid themselves of Campbell’s position of power on the board, of which he’s been a member since 2005.

Campbell is also one of the state’s leading critics of teachers unions and the founder of Stop Teachers Strikes, a nonprofit trying to change Pennsylvania state law that allows teachers to go on strike when they reach a contract impasse. He frequently speaks at conservative gatherings across the state and isn’t shy about his views on how unions are holding back Pennsylvania schools.

Campbell and the other members of his majority on the Pennsbury School Board have promised to never sign a contract with the teachers’ union that includes automatic deduction of union dues or allows the union to have a hand in educational decision-making in the school district.

They have also proposed to outsource school busing costs by using private companies instead of keeping school bus drivers on the district payroll, which has further angered the unions.

Campbell said the move could save millions annually – and it would limit the number of employees in the district’s pension plan for school workers – but exact figures are unknown because the board is still gathering information.

Control of the board for another two years would ensure the completion of Campbell’s plan to privatize the school busing operations, Miller wrote.

It would also create “a very difficult” negotiating position for the union, he wrote.

Miller wrote that those signatures were gathered “largely through the efforts” of the local teachers’ union and an affiliated union for other school employees.

The correspondence between the two union heads was included on a disk submitted to Bucks County Court of Common Pleas along with other court filings related to redrawing the district lines. The court will have the final say on which proposal is enacted when it hears the case in August.

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Eric Boehm