Teachers win salary hikes but fall short on insurance demands

Teachers in Manatee County finally have an answer as to how much they will make his school year. After a five-month long contract impasse and a five-hour meeting Monday night, the school board reached a consensus.

In a unanimous vote, the school board decided on the following parameters:

▪  Highly effective teachers will receive a four-step pay increase (roughly $1,200).

▪  Effective teachers will receive a three-step pay increase (roughly $900).

▪  Teachers with 16 and 25 years in the district will receive a longevity supplement of $2,100 and $3,600 respectively.

▪  All teachers will receive a supplement of $300.

The union succeeded in getting the district to agree to pay step increases it had hoped for, but retroactive pay and more funding for health insurance were two items left on the table.

Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber said she was still concerned about increasing health insurance costs for the teachers, but she said she felt the final agreement was an improvement over the district’s initial offer.

The union came into the hearing proposing pay raises of roughly $1,200 and $900, for highly effective and effective teachers respectively, retro pay, $1,200 raises for all teachers on the grandfathered salary schedule and an additional $1.6 million toward health insurance premiums to offset increases for employees.

Superintendent Diana Greene proposed a $600 or $900 pay bump for effective or highly effective teachers, no retropay, longevity pay for teachers hitting 16 and 25 years, and a $300 supplement for all teachers.

The district’s basic argument boiled down to a concern over the fragility of the state-mandated 3 percent reserve fund balance.

“The association’s proposal is quite reasonable — if we could afford it,” said district negotiator Bill Vogel.

District Chief Financial Officer Rebecca Roberts warned the board that the union’s initial proposal would force the district to notify the state Department of Education that it was in danger of falling below 3 percent.

“Morally, legally, ethically, you cannot select an option that will put the fund balance below 3 percent,” Roberts said.

The plan the board finally agreed upon would result in a 3.30 percent fund balance, according to Roberts.

The hours-long meeting, with some angry public comments and questions as to the legitimacy of the district’s numbers, revealed the baggage the district still must contend with as a result of the 2011-12 financial meltdown that resulted in state oversight.

The meeting was preceded by roughly 200 teachers wearing red lining the streets surrounding the school board building, holding signs and waving to passing cars.

Board member Karen Carpenter said there were few with her on the dais who could remember the “bad old days” when the district’s finances tanked. She questioned Roberts and reminded board members to remember when the school board had been misled by administrators on the budget and union negotiator Bruce Proud sounded the alarm.

“Mr. Proud remembered that,” she said. “When his numbers were right and ours were wrong.”

Carpenter’s remarks were echoed by murmuring audience members, mostly made up of teachers, who had to be told to be quiet several times by the board chair.

Board member Dave Miner expressed the greatest concern over increasing the district’s offering to the teachers. He made a motion to accept Greene’s initial proposal, but none of the other board members went along with it.

“I’m concerned about the risk. If we don’t get to that 3 (percent fund balance), the world doesn’t come to an end, you just wish it had,” Miner said. “The ramifications for every teacher ... it would hurt the district in so many ways.”

After the meeting, Greene said the district needed to pursue additional funding sources and that, until additional funding came in, she wasn’t satisfied.

“Until we get the funding we need, no I’m not satisfied, but I know this is the best offer we can give to make sure our budget is solvent and we meet that 3 percent,” Greene said. “It’s what we have to do.”

Ryan McKinnon: 941-745-7027, @JRMcKinnon