Cheers to magistrate in school impasse
Special Magistrate Robert Hoffman handed Manatee County public school teachers a sweet victory this week on the two biggest issues in the Manatee Education Association’s labor dispute with district leaders. After hearing arguments from both the teachers union and the district administration in January, Hoffman sided with the teachers union on pay scale increases that are also retroactive, and on higher district funding of soaring health insurance premiums.
Teacher salaries here have fallen since 2007-08. Meanwhile, neighboring school districts put a high value on classroom educators and increased their pay. This puts Manatee County at a competitive disadvantage in the recruitment and retention of the best and brightest teachers. Those educators can simply drive across county lines for better pay, Sarasota being especially attractive since teachers never suffered salary cuts during the recession. Plus, teacher pay there ranks among the highest in the state.
Sarasota taxpayers have been generous to the district, several times reauthorizing an extra 1 mill of property tax for schools. That mill brings in an extra $55 million annually, which administrators can spend on teacher and staff pay raises and other operational costs.
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In 2009, the state let school districts levy a “critical needs tax” for one year to address plunging tax revenues. But after one year, the districts had to get voter approval. When the vote came up in 2010, Manatee County voters rejected it. Sarasota didn’t.
Manatee County voters reauthorized a half-cent sales tax in November, but that money can only be spent on capital projects, not operational costs.
In his decision after the impasse hearing, Hoffman dismissed the district’s pleas that the extra money is just not available — noting the district allows reallocations within the budget and chided administrators for claiming that is not permissible here.
The colossal premium increases all in one year for teachers with spouses or families on their plans could be “devastating,” Hoffman wrote, agreeing with the union that the district should pay the $1.5 million in new premium costs.
Now the district and union meet next week and either come to some agreements or the decision will be left to the school board. Either way, these two components of the contract should be approved. Teachers are undervalued here. Cheers to Hoffman for basically agreeing with that.
Parks in profit bull’s-eye again
After batting the idea around repeatedly but succumbing to public pressure two years ago not to turn state parks into money machines, state officials are trying again — specifically targeting Myakka River State Park for timber harvesting and Savannas Preserve State Park in Port. St. Lucie for cattle grazing. The massive Myakka park stretches from southeastern Manatee County deep into Sarasota County. A final decision has yet to be made.
The Florida Department of Environmental Destruction, er, Protection promises the money grubbing, environmentally unfriendly activities would only take place on a limited basis. Sure. The DEP assures citizens that timber harvests will be for “thinning or restoration purposes, vegetation removal for ecosystem health and fire control.” Anyone every heard of a timber company pulling weeds? And making money off that?
How about “cattle grazing in a small overgrown pasture to assist with control of invasive plant species,” as the DEP states. That seems like a stretch. Is someone going to encircle these small pastures to ensure the cows don’t wander and eat whatever they like?
Is hunting in state parks next? Golf courses and hotels, as previously proposed? Maybe some fracking? A big boo to the officials behind this.
Quote of the Week
“They don’t know what they are talking about.” — Jaap-Jan De Greef, who ran a labor camp for 35 years at Whisenant Farms in East Manatee, commenting on Americans who say all undocumented immigrants should be deported because they are taking jobs away from Americans. De Greef told the Herald this week that in all his years at Whisenant Farms, he had only five American citizens apply for jobs there, and when they learned they would be working outside in the sun, often crouched over, none of them accepted those jobs.