Letter: HB 1495, Flexibility in Employee Decisions (June 21, 2017)

To:       Members of the House of Representatives

From:   John Callahan, Assistant Executive Director

Date:    June 21, 2017

Re:       House Bill 1495 – Flexibility in Employee Decisions

On behalf of the 4,500 taxpayer elected school board members in Pennsylvania we urge you to consider providing school districts with the same flexibility most businesses in Pennsylvania have–the ability to furlough employees for economic reasons and in a common-sense manner based on performance.  House Bill 1495 accomplishes both of these goals and leaves these important decisions to local school districts.

While the General Assembly often urges school leaders to operate their districts more efficiently, current law does not give school districts the appropriate tools to effectively manage their workforce.  In the business world, a decline in existing revenue, required expenditure increases, and limited flexibility to raise new revenue would result in looking for immediate savings through personnel reductions.  However, despite the fact that the personnel line item takes up an increasingly large share of a district’s budget, the Public School Code currently provides very limited opportunities for school districts to furlough staff, allowing them to do so only in narrow circumstances such as when a district experiences a significant decline in enrollment or eliminates an entire program.

To have the tools necessary to respond to critical financial situations, school districts need the flexibility to engage in furloughs for economic reasons without the arbitrary restrictions, such as the use of seniority, that accompany current law.  While the decision to reduce staff is certainly not taken lightly and is often a last resort for school districts, where reductions in personnel expenditures are necessary, they must be done in a rational, measured and efficient manner through the use of entirely objective criteria. This issue is not about forcing tenured teachers out of the classroom. It is about giving school districts the flexibility to manage their personnel in a manner that is responsible, and responsive to the needs of the students.

While school districts have and will continue to reduce expenditures at every opportunity to avoid making cuts to educational programs and staff, we encourage you to give school districts common sense tools, in the form of economic furloughs based on effectiveness, to reduce expenditures and tackle dramatic financial challenges all without increasing taxes or undermining educational quality.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) is a nonprofit statewide association representing the 4,500 elected officials who govern the commonwealth’s public school districts.  PSBA is a membership-driven organization, pledged to the highest ideals of local lay leadership for public schools and working to support reform for the betterment of public education that prepares students to be productive citizens, and promote the achievements of public schools, students, and local school boards.

I appreciate your time and attention to these matters. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at (717) 506-2450 x3337.