Negotiations between the teachers union and the School District of Manatee County kicked off Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday’s meeting was mostly an introductory session, as both sides talked about their hopes for the process and hashed out some administrative details. Both sides said they hope for a painless process, in contrast to the contract impasse that lasted for much of last school year.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go through impasse again,” said Ron Ciranna, deputy superintendent for operations. “We would love to have this wrapped up and have a tentative agreement go out in September.”
Manatee Education Association negotiator Bruce Proud encouraged the district to be forthcoming with document requests from the union to speed up the process.
Last year, negotiators for the union and district came to a tentative agreement, but the teachers did not ratify it, largely due to a sharp increase in health insurance premiums for teachers with spouses and family on their plans. Ultimately, the two sides went to impasse. The school board carved out a compromise that gave teachers the pay step increases they wanted but withheld retroactive pay and additional health care funding. That meant teachers during the 2016-17 school year were paid 2015-16 wages for the majority of the year.
District chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts said her office was still in the process of closing out the 2016-17 fiscal year, which ended June 30, but the preliminary numbers looked good. She said the district saved money on health insurance, as many teachers moved their spouses off of their health insurance plan after the sharp increase in premiums for employee plus spouse coverage. And she said utility costs were lower than usual after the mild winter.
Roberts said the district had set aside funds for potential employee raises, and that fund currently had $3.7 million in it.
The school board recently passed a new policy requiring the district to maintain a 5 percent fund balance. In 2017-18, the district must budget to have 4 percent in savings. During last year’s impasse hearings, raising the percentage in reserves was a key priority of the district that often collided with union requests for more pay step increases or lower premium increases.
“That (5 percent balance) is a goal of the board, and it’s not an unrealistic one,” Ciranna said. “The district is coming back into fiscal responsibility and we want to continue to move in that direction.”
Roberts said she did not anticipate any change in health insurance premiums for teachers this year.
The two sides agreed to meet again on Monday, Aug. 14 to continue negotiations.