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Teachers’ union, school district declare impasse

BRADENTON -- An impasse has been declared in contract talks between the school district and teacher union representatives.

After six months of negotiations, the two groups declared a deadlock. By law, only an external individual can help the opposing groups agree now.

School district officials declared an impasse Wednesday and sent a hand-delivered letter to the Manatee Education Association, which represents teachers and paraprofessionals or teachers’ aides.

The letter, written by Chief Negotiator Darcy Hopko, states, “Although we have made progress on some items, we do not seem able to resolve some difficult issues before us.”

Pat Barber, MEA president, said all school districts are suffering from budget cuts and Manatee County’s is no different. But Barber believes there “has to be some fair way” to resolve issues considering “employees already do so much.”

Out of 28 points in the collective bargaining talks, tentative agreements have been reached on two points involving planning days and highly qualified teachers. Two other issues were resolved involving supplemental salaries and record days. The remaining 24 points are still in negotiations between MEA and the district.

One of the largest issues is an escalating health premium deficit. The district has a self-insurance group health plan. For the past four years, the health insurance fund has acquired a $8.4 million deficit.

A consultant advised district officials to decrease the deficit by increasing employees’ premiums. MEA proposed health premiums increase by $2.50 to $95.00 per month effective April 1. District officials prefer to have premiums increase by $17.81 to $138,18 per month.

“We were hoping we could come to some kind of agreement that was fair and reasonable,” Barber said.

Hopko sent a letter to Patty Perry, coordinator of the mediation and impasse resolution department with the state’s Florida Employees Relations Commission. In it, Hopko explains that the district “does not desire to mediate and is requesting the appointment of a special magistrate.

“Regarding the special magistrate, we feel the best option to reach a resolution on these issues is to let an independent third party review them and assist in rendering an opinion,” Hopko said in a news release. “We look forward to reaching an agreement that will be in the best interest of the district, the MEA, our students and our community.”

Perry says once a magistrate is requested, she sends a letter notifying the parties of 40 special magistrates. District officials and MEA representatives have 20 days to select a magistrate, Perry said.

“They can get together and select a magistrate or they can each send in their choice,” Perry said.

A magistrate will preside over a public hearing, according to state law. After all the evidence/issues are vetted between the two parties, the magistrate will offer a recommendation.