MANATEE -- One day after district officials declared an impasse halting teachers’ 2011-12 contract talks, Superintendent Tim McGonegal asked union leaders to forego selecting a special magistrate to settle their differences.
Instead, McGonegal wants teachers union representatives to OK a public hearing where the school board acts as a legislative body to settle contract skirmishes. Usually, board members would hold a hearing only if there is an objection to a magistrate’s findings. However, McGonegal said that process would take too long, creating a scenario where a 2.75 percent imposed pay cut might not start until February.
“The impasse procedures can take more than 90 days before there is a final decision on the salary schedule that can be implemented,” McGonegal said in a letter to Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber.
McGonegal said district officials would ask the board to spread a pay cut equally over remaining paychecks in the school year. McGonegal was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
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MEA business agent Bruce Proud said his organization is preparing a comment in response to McGonegal’s request. He offered a glimpse into what the group has decided.
“Currently, we don’t believe waiving the magistrate is in the best interests of employees,” Proud said. “What he (McGonegal) says is disputable. It suggests that the board will just impose what he is recommending.”
That wasn’t the case in early June when the school board acted as a legislative body to settle differences over the 2010-11 contracts. Some issues the board sided with the district. The board sided with MEA on one issue regarding health insurance.
Current issues include a district proposal for a 2.75 percent pay cut for teachers and a 12 percent to 48 percent increase in health insurance premiums, depending on benefit options chosen. The district declared an impasse Oct. 6.
In his letter, McGonegal stresses that time is of the essence in moving forward with the pay-cut plan.
“Obviously the fewer paychecks that the reduction is spread over, the larger the reduction will be in each paycheck,” McGonegal said. “It is for that reason that we are asking you to waive the special magistrate proceeding as allowed under the statute.”
He added that if the magistrate is waived, the board could schedule a hearing next Wednesday and MEA could finalize ratification of the vote by Oct. 28, McGonegal said.
“That means that if the reduction is imposed by the board, it could start with the first paycheck in November. That way the reduction will be much less than if it starts with the first paycheck in February 2012.”
Christine Sket, president of Manatee County’s Fund Education Now, an Orlando-based advocacy group, is concerned about the impact this proceeding will have on teachers.
“I know that a lot of teachers are heads of households,” Sket said.
Teachers are required to pay an additional 3 percent this year to the Florida Retirement System. They also paid more in health insurance premiums. A 2.75 percent salary cut could prove problematic for many.
“They are going to have to make hard decisions,” Sket said about teachers. “I think we need to be looking at their income and their means. They’re not asking for a lot.”