The Manatee Education Association and School District of Manatee County both made their cases before a special magistrate Wednesday at an impasse hearing at the Manatee School Board.
The two sides are roughly $3 million apart in negotiations over the district’s teachers contract for the 2016-17 school year. The union is asking for a cost-of-living increase for all teachers, more pay-step level increases, a longevity pay supplement and an additional $1.6 million toward offsetting health insurance premium increases for employees with their spouse or families on their plan.
Special Magistrate Robert Hoffman listened to arguments from district negotiator Bill Vogel and MEA negotiator Bruce Proud.
Proud seized on the theme of “priorities” during his testimony, a theme echoed by MEA supporters and teachers throughout the district who wore stickers reading, “It’s about priorities.”
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Both sides have two weeks to submit briefs once they get copies of the transcript, and Hoffman will issue a report within roughly two weeks of receiving their briefs. If either side disagrees with any of Hoffman’s recommendations, the issue will be passed on to the school board to arbitrate.
We certainly know there is the ability to make priorities in the budget throughout the year, and that is what we are asking to have done.
- MEA negotiator Bruce Proud
“We are not saying budgets should or have to be exact,” Proud said. “A budget is a guide to use to talk about what our priorities are. ... But we certainly know there is the ability to make priorities in the budget throughout the year, and that is what we are asking to have done. To make employees a priority, to make some modifications and make some adjustments.”
Proud argued that the district moves money within different funds throughout the school year and that if the district made teacher pay a priority, the money would be available.
He used the district’s 2015-16 budget as an example, pointing out that the district had budgeted for $253 million for instruction at the beginning of the year, but at the end of the year the true cost was roughly $10 million less that that.
“We know what’s being budgeted is not what’s being spent on instruction,” he said.
Our requirement is that at the end of this year, our fund balance is 3.1 percent. We are teetering on that fund balance.
- District Negotiator Bill Vogel
District Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Roberts said funding can fluctuate because the district will budget for full staffing levels, but sometimes the year ends without positions being filled.
Vogel said the district would need to dip into its reserves to meet union demands. State law requires districts to notify the state if they fall below 3 percent in their reserves, and the state will provide oversight for any district falling below 2 percent.
Vogel said the district had already used $2 million in reserves to fund the proposed health insurance package, and that the district was struggling to stay above 3 percent.
“We are teetering on that fund balance,” Vogel said.
Chief of Human Resources Sarah Brown testified that using more district money to offset rising premium costs for employees with their spouse or children on their plan would negatively affect the majority of staff in the district.
Brown said 61 percent of teachers receiving coverage would not be impacted with rising costs, and that 1,700 staff members are not on the district’s health care.