Nobody ever said being an elected official would be all fun and games.
As a result of a final failed bargaining session last week between Manatee County School District negotiators and the Manatee Education Association, school board members will have to make the ultimate decision on teacher pay raises and health insurance contributions — a decision that could either anger the district’s roughly 2,700 teachers or engender ill will between the board and the administration.
The teacher’s union, bolstered by the support of Special Magistrate Robert Hoffman, who ruled in its favor on the major issues after a Jan. 25 hearing, has argued the district has the money to provide retroactive pay, greater pay raises and health insurance premiums. The school district is adamant that the money just is not there, and funding the union’s requests would put the district in peril of dipping beneath the state-mandated 3 percent fund reserve.
Board members, not allowed to discuss the case until the day of the hearing, will have to decide which group they believe.
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At last week’s bargaining session, district negotiator Bruce Proud questioned the honesty of the school district’s numbers, telling district Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Roberts, “Your credibility is not good with me.”
Manatee Education Association Pat Barber said the district’s final offer was less than what the district and union had agreed upon in a tentative agreement in the fall that the teachers ultimately rejected. Barber said any offer less than the tentative agreement was a non-starter.
“Our goal, and theirs should have been, too, is to get a ratified agreement,” Barber said.
Now that the sides can’t come to an agreement, that responsibility rests with five elected officials.
“Last week was that last-ditch effort to come to an agreement, but once you come this far, it’s not going to happen,” Kennedy said. “Now it comes to us on the 27th.”