Five months after teachers in Manatee County schools rejected a tentative contract agreement with the district, the question of how much Manatee County’s roughly 2,700 teachers will make is left to five Manatee County School Board members.
The board is scheduled to rule on the contract impasse between the Manatee Education Association and the district during a hearing Monday. Each side will have 20 minutes to present their case and 10 minutes for rebuttal, with additional time for school board questions.
Board members will hear two very different arguments. The union says Manatee’s teachers are among the worst-paid in the state and the district has the funds to meet its demands. District officials argue that salaries are competitive and the union’s plan would throw the district back to the days of state oversight and insufficient funds.
“The budgeting this year was so tight because the district only received 1 percent new money,” district negotiator Bill Vogel said. Under the union’s demands, “they are very critical to being right back to where they were a number of years ago, when the state came in because the fund balance was under 3 percent.”
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(Under the union’s demands) they are very critical to being right back to where they were a number of years ago when the state came in because fund balance was under 3 percent.
District negotiator Bill Vogel
The union wants teachers who are rated highly effective on the performance pay scale to advance four steps, and effective-rated teachers to advance three steps, for pay raises of roughly $1,200 and $900, respectively. All teachers on the grandfathered salary schedule would advance four steps, under the union’s proposal. And the union wants the district to contribute an additional $1.6 million toward health insurance premiums to offset increases for employees.
The district instead offered roughly $600 and $900 pay bumps to effective and highly-effective teachers, respectively, without retroactive pay. During the final March 9 bargaining session, the district also offered a one-time cost-of-living adjustment of $300 and longevity pay for 58 district teachers, $2,100 for those hitting 16 years in the district and $3,600 for teachers hitting 25 years in the district.
In the midst of all the numbers, MEA president Pat Barber hopes board members find clarity in special magistrate Robert Hoffman’s Feb. 22 ruling following a hearing he arbitrated between the two parties.
In a non-binding recommendation, Hoffman ruled heavily in favor of the union.
“It was good a person coming in from the outside who was able to look at the issues, devoid of any emotion, and recommend that the district pay what was in the MEA’s proposal,” MEA President Pat Barber told the Herald earlier this month.
In his ruling, Hoffman said the district clearly could move funds around in its budget, as evidenced by annually moving funds out of the teacher instruction category.
Hoffman pointed to testimony from school district Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Roberts, who said the district budgets teacher salaries based on being fully staffed, but if a position remains unfilled or goes to a long-term substitute, the district moves the savings to other budget categories.
The actual cost for teacher salaries was $7 million less in January than had been budgeted, Roberts testified in January. Hoffman noted that for the last three years, the district ultimately spent less on teacher salaries than originally budgeted. The actual expense of teacher salaries was $10.8 million less than budgeted in 2015-16, $11.3 million less in 2014-15 and $8.03 million less in 2013-14.
In his report, Hoffman questioned why the district never mentioned the budget savings during the course of negotiation.
The district cannot create funds simply by transferring them.
Superintendent Diana Greene
“There is no evidence in this record that the district actually considered this significant roster change and its savings when the parties met on Nov. 8, 2016 to discuss this MEA proposal,” Hoffman wrote in his ruling.
On Friday, Vogel said the district’s accounting software makes discovering savings difficult, and that Roberts has worked hard to find savings anywhere she can.
“One of the biggest problems has been the archaic accounting system the district has in place,” Vogel said. “And that makes it exceedingly hard for the CFO to monitor what is transpiring throughout the course of the year.”
And Superintendent Diana Greene challenged the magistrate’s opinion that “budget flexibility” allowed administrators to find money within the budget to meet union demands in a March 16 letter to school board members.
We are all better off when we don’t talk about it, and when we do talk about it, it doesn’t leave us in a good place. It's troubling that other districts can somehow get it done and we can't.
Susan Bischoff, a fourth grade teacher at Bashaw Elementary School.
“The district cannot create funds simply by transferring them,” Greene wrote.
Teachers in Manatee have seen their counterparts across the state catch up with and surpass them in annual pay. In 2007-08, Manatee’s teachers made on average $2,500 more than the average teacher in Florida. In 2015-16, Manatee’s teachers made $610 less than the state average. And while Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough all have increased salaries over the last decade, the average Manatee teacher salary has gone from $49,500 to $47,500.
Monday’s hearing will be preceded by a show of solidarity among district teachers, who plan to wear red and line the sidewalk around the school board building.
“We are all better off when we don’t talk about it, and when we do talk about it, it doesn’t leave us in a good place,” said Susan Bischoff, a fourth-grade teacher at Bashaw Elementary School. “It’s troubling that other districts can somehow get it done and we can’t.”