Manatee teachers union turns down superintendent's request

ataylor@bradenton.comOctober 18, 2011 

MANATEE -- Superintendent Tim McGonegal’s request to forgo a special magistrate and allow school board members to have first crack at settling contract disputes, has been rejected by teachers union President Pat Barber.

Barber sent a two-page letter responding to McGonegal’s request. In the letter, Barber itemizes the reasons why the Manatee Education Association does not agree with McGonegal’s desire to sidestep use of a special magistrate to settle contract talks.

Barber said the magistrate is needed to determine if the district can afford to fund employee salaries. She believes the magistrate selected for the April proceeding was “valuable to the board in their deliberations” over what is best for the community and the employees. Barber then told McGonegal that he “relies too heavily” on the idea that the school board will OK his requests.

“Unfortunately you declared impasse prematurely,” Barber said to McGonegal in the Oct. 13 letter. “MEA is not interested in delaying the process. However, MEA is not currently interested in waiving the special magistrate hearing process,” she said.

District Chief Negotiator Scott Martin said the decision to declare impasse was not reached too soon.

“I don’t think there is any magic to the appropriate time to declare impasse,” Martin said. “We weren’t making meaningful progress.”

Bruce Proud, business agent for MEA, said that statement is not true.

“We’re a bit frustrated,” Proud said. “I thought we were making progress toward getting to an agreement. We still have questions that remain unanswered that were raised in the scope of bargaining.”

When the impasse was declared, district officials requested that the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission issue a list of magistrates. The two groups will now select a magistrate from that list and a hearing will be scheduled. At least 90 days could pass before the magistrate’s recommendations are made.

That’s what concerned McGonegal. He wanted school board members to hold a legislative body hearing -- a step usually reserved to settle differences after the magistrate has issued recommendations.

Barber said, “The process is designed to allow for such a decision to be made by the board following the process and there should be no presumption that the board will simply impose what the superintendent proposes in negotiations.”

Martin said that district officials know that the board will have “absolute discretion” at that time. But drawing the hearing and the recommendations out concerns district officials, Martin said.

“Our main concern is of the substantial effect on employees,” he said.

Two main issues dividing the district and the teachers’ union are a proposed 2.75 percent salary cut for all teachers and a 12 to 48 percent increase to health insurance premiums.

“I think we’re in an unfortunate position of recommending the pay cut,” Martin said. “That’s never a good thing but it is a well thought-out action.”

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