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Merit pay for Hernando teachers heads to new vote
The School Board sends the issue back to teachers because of its high price.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 7, 2007
BROOKSVILLE -- There was an easy way for the Hernando County School Board to back out of a state merit-pay plan, and a hard way.
Fearing a lawsuit, the board chose the hard way Tuesday, asking the teacher's union to take a new vote and formally reverse its support of the plan.
Just over a month ago, a divided board reluctantly approved the Merit Award Plan, which pays up to 25 percent of district teachers a state-funded salary bonus based on student testing results and an administrative evaluation.
At that time, both the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association union and Jim Malcolm, the swing vote on the board, said they would support the plan only if it did not incur extra costs for the district that might affect teacher salaries.
As of Tuesday, when the board met in a workshop, the estimated costs had risen to nearly $400,000, said Heather Martin, executive director of business services. That is money the district would have to spend to devise tests and evaluation systems among other implementation costs.
Union officials suggested that the board ignore the plan, without formally withdrawing its support.
While that would kill the plan in Hernando, it would pose no problem for the union since the teachers had supported it only with the caveat about teacher salaries, said executive director Sandra Armstrong.
"I'm for just withdrawing, as quickly as possible," said board member Dianne Bonfield, predicting rising district costs.
But board attorney J. Paul Carland said the district risked a lawsuit by a disgruntled union member if it failed to carry out its end of the merit-pay agreement.
"You made a mutual decision, and somehow there needs to be a mutual decision somehow to not go forward," he said, referring to the board's previous acceptance of the plan following union ratification.
Union officials said their change of heart came, in part, because the district has offered less money for teacher raises this fall -- 5 percent, plus the full cost of an expected 1 percent health-care cost increase -- than it set aside for that purpose.
To their thinking, the district must have reserved some of those funds to implement the merit-pay plan, Armstrong said.
"For us to get out of MAP, we'd certainly expect that there would be additional money put back on the table," she added.
District and union negotiators will meet next week to continue those contract talks. But it will be several weeks before teachers at each of the district's 21 schools can take a second vote on the merit pay issue, officials said.
FAST FACTS: What's next? District and union negotiators will meet next week to continue contract talks. But it will be several weeks before teachers at each of the district's 21 schools can take a second vote on the merit pay issue, officials said