MANATEE -- Manatee County School District officials have declared an impasse in talks with representatives of the local teachers’ union on a 2011-12 contract.
At issue are district proposals for a 2.75 percent pay cut for teachers; and a 12 percent to 48 percent increase in health insurance premiums, depending on benefit options chosen.
After about three months, negotiations grew so contentious that the district halted talks and filed paperwork with the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission -- the agency responsible for resolving disputes between governmental organizations and its employees. Teachers are now working without benefit of a contract for this school year.
“While good work has been done, it appears that we are unable to resolve our issues through bargaining,” schools chief negotiator Scott Martin wrote in a letter to teachers’ union president Pat Barber.
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Bruce Proud, business agent for the Manatee Education Association, questioned whether the district was hasty in declaring an impasse. He said it was his hope that district officials, who met with union representatives throughout the week, would come to some type of agreement.
“That doesn’t seem to be the overall goal of the superintendent or the board,” Proud said.
Before the impasse was declared, MEA’s website said, “Negotiations between MEA and the district are becoming more strained with each bargaining session. The district seems to be less interested in reaching an agreement and more interested in unnecessarily taking more money away from employees. Although the state has cut the budget, the superintendent’s negotiators are pushing for deeper cuts in salary and benefits than are required to balance the budget and stabilize the health plan.”
The two groups were negotiating for the 2011-2012 school year. Twelve-month, non-unionized employees work under current-year contracts. They received pay cuts at the beginning of the school year. However, if a teacher-based salary cut is enforced, educators may have to slash dollars at an inopportune time.
“The board has a lot of flexibility in what they are allowed to do,” Martin said, explaining how a salary cut for teachers could take place in the future.
Teachers currently are working under 2010-2011 contracts. According to Martin, “everything remains status quo until bargaining is negotiated.”
Proud said a pay cut isn’t necessary. School Superintendent Tim McGonegal recommended for $14 million to be cut from this year’s budget, Proud added.
Proud said that $3 million of that budget was to be set aside for health insurance. Those dollars can be used to prevent a teacher pay cut, Proud said.
Martin said, “All of Dr. McGonegal’s budget recommendations were subject to whatever happened in bargaining. We haven’t changed in any position.”
There also have been no changes with plans to increase health insurance premiums, Martin said. School district officials have always planned to increase health insurance in accordance with an independent analysis, called the Mercer report, which was completed last year.
“We suggested the Mercer second-year rates,” Martin said.
Proud, however, said the Mercer report is faulty. While he believes a premium increase is necessary, the amount the district has requested is exorbitant, Proud said. He wants district officials to rely on the new health insurance committee which has been working since late June.
“It’s truly unfortunate the board and superintendent would ignore employees’ recommendation without any formal study,” Proud said.
As a result of the impasse, Martin sent a letter to the Public Employees Relations Commission on Thursday. Martin’s impasse request marks the second time the district has declared an impasse in its dealings with the teachers’ union in 10 months. In mid-January, the district declared an impasse that led to a three-day hearing that cost the union and district more than $9,100.
Just like earlier this year, district and union officials will select a magistrate and a date to start a hearing to settle their differences.