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Teachers union, district reach tentative agreement

MANATEE — Teachers and aides will receive experience-based raises next school year, and those who have been in the district for 26 years or more will also get back their 1 percent pay that was cut from this school year, according to Manatee County schools and teachers union officials Tuesday.

After six days of bargaining, the district and the Manatee Education Association reached a tentative agreement on salary and other issues such as planning time and pay dates.

The agreement came the day after Superintendent Tim McGonegal proposed to slash $14 million from next school year’s budget. The agreement has to be ratified by both sides.

Under the deal, both sides agreed to let teachers collect the experience-based raises next year. That was frozen last year after the school board halted the increases and imposed a 1 percent pay cut on most employees.

Veteran teachers who top out on the district’s salary schedule at 26 years will also get the pay cut back next school year.

There are about 500 teachers and aides in that category, said McGonegal. That move would cost the district $360,000.

To afford that, both sides created a separate annual contract schedule for employees hired after July 1. The experience-based increases in the later years are lower compared to the tenured salary schedule.

The new schedule would save the district $400,000, McGonegal said.

“We value our teachers and what they do, and we want to show them how valuable they are,” he said.

The annual contract salary schedule will affect retired teachers and aides who want to remain in schools, as well as new hires.

The tentative agreement also lets teachers have an additional planning day in a month and creates an option for teachers to receive their paychecks over 10 or 12 months starting in 2010-11. There were no changes to health insurance benefits.

“We chose to use a collaborative process in an effort to work together on behalf of teachers and paras during these very difficult financial times,” said Pat Barber, president of the MEA, in a statement Tuesday. “Both parties entered bargaining with a desire to repair the relatinship between MEA and the district.”

Both the district and union have had contentious negotiations in the past several years.

In 2006, teachers picketed outside the school district administration building on Manatee Avenue West over planning time. Last year, the district declared an impasse after union officials declined to bargain under a “financial urgency” statute that allows the district to negotiate in 14 days. Those two instances resulted in the union filing unfair labor claims against the district.