Pinellas Schools superintendent Julie Janssen on contract negotiations with teachers

08/13/09 Seán Kinane
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Contract negotiations resume today between Pinellas County Schools and its teachers’ union.

This afternoon in Feather Sound, Superintendent Julie Janssen addressed the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. Between the academic year that just finished and the one coming up, Janssen says the district has made tens of millions of dollars in cost reductions.

“We’ve actually cut … this past year $26.8 million dollars and we’ve built in another 37.6 million [dollars] for this coming school year. … We closed six schools and we combined others: we took five schools and made them into two.”

On Tuesday, the Hillsborough County School Board voted to suspend its attendance incentives because of fears that they would motivate students to come to school even if sick, potentially increasing the chance of a swine flu outbreak. Janssen says Pinellas needs to reevaluate its attendance incentives as well.

In January of last year, Floridians passed “Amendment 1” which considerably lowered property taxes. When he campaigned for its passage, Governor Charlie Crist promised that education would be held harmless. But Janssen says that the amount the Legislature allocates to school districts has gone down.

The school district declared an impasse in contract negotiations with its teachers last month. They resumed negotiations Thursday morning. Janssen says, quote, “I’m not sure how much wiggle room we’re going to have.”

Because of declining revenue from a referendum going toward teacher pay, classroom teachers are likely to see a decrease in pay of just under $300 dollars in the upcoming year. Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, says, quote, “Both sides have a proposal on the table and we just have to see how it goes. But we are definitely working towards a compromise and reaching the best possible package for our teachers.”

Black hopes that rather than taking a straight pay cut for the referendum shortfall, that teachers could instead take the equivalent time, about a day, as unpaid furlough. But Janssen insists that wouldn’t be possible because of “trying to be very fair to every group” of employees.

Teacher’s union president Kim Black holds firm to the idea that teacher pay should not be reduced.

Superintendent Janssen says her goal is to not force employees to take any furlough days, or leaves without pay.

If the two sides can’t come to a compromise, it will go to a special magistrate. But union president Black is concerned that rather than using an in-house attorney to represent them, Pinellas Schools has hired an outside labor attorney, Tom Gonzales. “I’m sure we will know something [about a new contract by] early fall.”

previous WMNF coverage of Pinellas Schools / teachers contract negotiations

Hillsborough Schools do away with attendance incentives

Crist says education funding would not suffer if Amendment 1 is passed

GED changes

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