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Teachers, board can't agree on pay terms

Happy with the figures but not the methods to achieve them, teachers now face two options.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2002

BROOKSVILLE -- Negotiators for the teachers union and the School Board declared their contract talks at an impasse Wednesday.

It's the first time in six years they have been unable to work out a new salary package at the bargaining table.

The stalemate means the two sides must hire a special mediator or work out their differences in a hearing where teachers present their case directly to the School Board.

Both sides were talking about an average raise of 5.3 percent for teachers. And it had been agreed that the School Board would pick up the costs of higher health insurance premiums.

But the union refused to accept the School Board's method of paying for the salary increases, which included cutting classroom supply budgets and supplements teachers get for coaching, sponsoring student clubs or performing other extra duties.

Union officials said those cuts could cost teachers about $330,000 this year. Now, that figure appears to be the size of the gap left between the two sides.

Edd Poore, the School Board's lead negotiator, said he had given teachers the district's best offer. He said the board simply had no more money to give.

But teachers don't see it that way.

They were miffed that the School Board coughed up $140,000 in raises for staffers Tuesday after presenting a "last, best offer" to teachers two weeks ago.

The board also approved nearly $100,000 in new district office staff salaries last week, including those for two new jobs and two pay upgrades for current workers.

And teachers offered a new argument for the cause Wednesday: Salaries for the county's superintendent, principals and several district-level administrators are much better than the rest of the state, but local teacher salaries are not.

The average teacher salary in Hernando County ranks 58th out of 67 Florida counties. Nearby Pasco County recently bumped its starting pay to $31,000 -- more than $5,000 higher than Hernando's starting pay.

But some of the district-level jobs -- including the directors of food service and transportation, and elementary and middle school principals -- ranked in the top 30 in the state, teachers said.

Other administrators, such as superintendent, assistant superintendent and high school principal, rank in the 40s statewide.

Poore did not dispute the rankings. He and Superintendent Wendy Tellone have said Hernando teachers are not paid enough.

But Poore noted that Hernando teachers would get much more money than Pasco teachers for classroom supplies -- $70 per student versus $41. Typically when classroom supply budgets fall short, teachers chip in from their own pockets.

Poore said teachers should have expected the School Board to sweeten its raise offer to support staffers after the board increased its offer to teachers from 3.6 to 5.3 percent, albeit with the cuts in supplements, classroom supply budgets and spending on technology.

In recent years, the School Board has given both unions similar raises.

But support staffers reached a tentative agreement with the School Board in July, even though teachers were still bargaining. The School Board even ratified the early pact, and is to vote on the revised package Tuesday.

As the teacher contract talks broke up Wednesday, teachers union president Cynthia Moore began enlisting teachers willing to serve on a "crisis team" when the union needs a show of force at the impasse hearings or any demonstrations that arise before then.

Several teachers said that now may be the time for them to start "working to the contract" -- ceasing to take work home or to participate in after-school activities or meetings they aren't paid a supplement to perform.

But union leaders gave a stark warning to be patient. They said it could be December or January before the impasse proceedings end.

Until then, teachers will work at the same salary they had under last year's contract. In the past, when impasses have ended, new raises for teachers have been made retroactive to the beginning of the school year.

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