Pinellas Schools declares impasse in negotiations with teacher union
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07/24/09 Seán Kinane
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Earlier this week, Pinellas County Schools declared an impasse in their contract negotiations with the county’s teacher’s union. But the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association still hopes there will be opportunity for discussion.

Because of declining tax revenues and school enrollment, Pinellas County Schools is proposing a budget that’s nearly 20 million dollars less than last year. As a result, they want all teachers take two unpaid furlough days, a $290 reduction in pay, and another year without a step increase in salary based on experience. But Kim Black, president of the teacher’s union, claims that rather than negotiate, the school district has declared an impasse.

“The district went ahead, and as of July 1st, started subtracting $290 from every teacher’s pay that was on 11-and-a-half- or a 12-month contract, with plans to subtract that money from teachers’ pay for the 10-month teachers who return in August. That’s a violation of our contract, so we filed a grievance on that issue alone. And then came the impasse from the district that they felt that through our negotiations they felt that they couldn’t agree to the proposals that we suggested, so they filed impasse.”

In a letter Tuesday to Pinellas Schools Superintendent Julie Janssen, Black wrote that it was “disconcerting” that she learned about the impasse from a reporter. A day earlier Janssen declared the stalemate in an email. In it, Black says that Janssen asked the union to waive their right to a mediator and a Special Magistrate.

“A federal mediator comes in and listens in an unbiased way to both parties and helps present the case to the School Board. And hopefully, through that process – and it’s at no cost to either party – that you could reach an agreement. It’s an unbiased opinion, a third party, if you will. And the district has asked that we waive the federal mediator and also that we waive the Special Magistrate. Now a Special Magistrate goes through the Public Employees Relations Commission, which is PERC. And PERC oversees the public sector collective bargaining in the state of Florida.”

Black says the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association has gone against the request from Superintendent Janssen by asking that PERC appoint a Special Magistrate.

“The Magistrate would make a decision based on both sides of the issue and make a presentation to the school board. Now at that point, the School Board can listen to the recommendation or go with their own recommendation and that would be held in a hearing, a public hearing.”

Pinellas County Schools has proposed cutting $290 from teacher salaries because of declining revenue from a special county tax - passed by voter referendum - which goes toward supplementing teacher pay. Black says that cut, if necessary, would be palatable if it were applied as a single unpaid day off for teachers without any other furloughs suggested by the district. The union’s proposal also calls for re-implementing the step increase, which averages $300.

“We showed the district where we felt there was additional funds to be had in the budget. And we did agree that if it was proven that the tax roll was to that level and that it was going to be $290 less for each teacher, that we would take a one-day leave without pay to offset the referendum shortfall. But we were requesting that the steps be rolled and the district never responded to our final proposal. Now that happened at the end of June and I have yet to hear from the district on the proposal, except in the form of the declaration of impasse which came Monday evening.”

School district offices are closed on Fridays during the summer; neither Superintendent Julie Janssen nor the School Board attorney was available for comment. Andrea Zahn, director of communications for Pinellas County Schools, says the district wants to come to an agreement with the teachers’ union.

“The impasse resolution process is the quickest means for reaching a fair and equitable agreement with our teachers.”

Union president Kim Black thinks that teacher pay should be a priority for the school district. “The stories that I hear from our employees where they’re teaching and then they’re leaving for their second job so that they can make their living wage is just really starting to wear out our workforce. And I think that’s the last thing we need to do heading into another school year.”

In its projected 2009-2010 budget, the school district plans to increase the overall millage rate for schools. Last year, Pinellas County homeowners paid $8.06 per $1,000 of taxable value; that amount would increase to $8.35 if the budget is passed as is. But the taxes of most homeowners would still decrease due to declining home values.

Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Kim Black stresses how teachers affect the learning experiences of the county’s students.

“PCTA’s position has always been: the most important thing that we can do for our children is to make sure that they have a high-performing, high-quality teacher in their classroom. And in order to attract and retain and reward good teachers, I think this should be a priority of the district. It certainly is a priority of the union. And so I think to that end, we’re committed to securing our step increases that reward teachers for their length of service and their level of professional accomplishments and experience. It’s definitely a direct impact on student learning.”

The first public hearing on the proposed budget for Pinellas County Schools will be at 7pm on Tuesday at their administration building in Largo.

Letter from Black to Janssen

Pinellas School Board’s proposed 2009-2010 budget

Pinellas County Schools

PCTA

PERC

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