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    Teachers union files unfair labor charge over teacher bonuses

    The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association says it was not consulted about the application process.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000

    The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association has filed a state complaint against the school district, saying the School Board improperly approved bonuses for teachers in struggling schools.

    The complaint, sent Friday to the Public Employee Relations Commission, said the district violated its labor contract with the union by approving bonuses that were not negotiated. The unfair labor practice charge likely will take months to resolve.

    "They can't simply bypass us," said union attorney Mark Herdman.

    The issue is a new program the state Legislature created to provide teachers at low-performing schools bonuses of $1,000 to $3,500. The Legislature did not provide enough money to give bonuses to all teachers at those schools, so Pinellas officials created an application so principals would know which teachers to nominate.

    Union officials said they were not properly consulted when the application was written, a charge Superintendent Howard Hinesley denies. School Board members reluctantly approved the bonuses, saying they had no choice because the law requires they be paid by Oct. 1.

    School Board attorney John Bowen had not seen the complaint late Friday, but maintained that he does not think these bonuses had to be negotiated. He also had advised the School Board to approve the bonuses, saying the law clearly gives the principals -- not the board -- the power to nominate deserving teachers.

    "I think the Legislature was clear in its language that it gave the right to award these bonuses to the principal, and the principal is not the public employer," Bowen said. "Therefore, there is no obligation to bargain."

    Jade Moore, executive director of the union, originally said the union would try to stop the bonuses from being paid by seeking an injunction in Circuit Court. The union decided that might not be successful, and altered course.

    Bonuses to 67 teachers were paid this week.

    Besides the complaint filed Friday, union leaders say they plan to file a suit next week against the state to try to stop the Legislature's practice of handing out bonuses. The union likely will argue that such payments violate the state's responsibility for operating a uniform system of education.

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