At 5 p.m. Monday, the School Board of Manatee County will convene as Legislative Body to hear the positions of the Manatee Education Association (MEA) and Superintendent Diana Greene as to the question of what the salary and benefits should be for teachers for the 2016-2017 work year.
The hearing comes after months of negotiations between MEA and the superintendent's representatives that resulted in tentative agreements which were rejected by teachers. In addition, a Special Magistrate, an independent fact finder, appointed by the Public Employee Relations Commission heard the arguments of both parties and recommended MEA's position on salary and health insurance when issuing his recommendations for settling the contract dispute.
Now, after meeting with the superintendent and her representatives through the entire process and reading the recommendations of the Special Magistrate, it becomes incumbent on the school board to act as a neutral legislative body and listen to the positions and rationale for each issue provided by both parties, MEA and the superintendent's representatives, giving equal weight to the arguments of both parties.
At stake in this process is the financial well-being of approximately 2,800 teachers who serve the students of Manatee County every day, as well as this community's ability to attract and retain teachers in the future. Teachers who work in the Manatee County Schools have taken pay cuts and furlough days due to shrinking state funding, as well as the mismanagement of the district's budget by past administrations. While other districts have provided raises and found ways not to cut salaries, our district has not done the same.
In spite of the lack of financial consideration given to them, teachers have continued to give their all to the students they serve. Teachers consistently take up the slack for budget shortfalls by spending their own money (between $100-$4,000 a year) to make sure their students have the materials and supplies needed to get the most benefit out of their time spent at school.
Teachers have continued to remain committed to their students in spite of our Legislature's and district's misguided attempts to show accountability by judging both teacher and student performance by the results of a single test each year.
Teachers have given more of their time by working after their work days (most work at least 20 additional hours a week and many work even more) in order to meet the ever-increasing demands of a job they came into because they love the work they do.
Manatee County's teachers continue to meet the ever-increasing expectations of the Manatee County School District in spite of the fact that with every year they fall further behind their colleagues in the surrounding counties. Yet, they have remained committed to their students, but question the district's commitment to them.
On Monday, March 27, 2017, the School Board of Manatee County has a huge responsibility before them. Will they be able to act as an independent legislative body and give equal weight to the information presented by both parties? Will they have the ability to act in the best interests of the teachers, the community and the school district regardless of which party presents the most credible information? Can they truly listen and consider all information equally? Can they consider whether they have made students and teachers a priority in their budget?
These are the expectations of their positions as school board members as outlined by Florida Statute, and they should be the expectations of teachers and community members when they consider what service our school board has provided to their constituents.
Patricia L. Barber, president, Manatee Education Association