School District, union contract talks break down

skinney@keynoter.comNovember 13, 2013 

Deadlocked over proposed contract language that allows the Monroe County School District to institute furlough days, it appears negotiations with the United Teachers of Monroe have broken down and Superintendent Mark Porter will hand off bargaining to labor attorney Bob Norton.

Norton successfully defended the district under the watch of then-Superintendent Jesus Jara in 2011-12 as UTM appealed an unpaid seven-day furlough program with the state Public Employees Relations Commission and First District Court of Appeal.

Porter has been negotiating for six months and with the pending entry of Norton, "It's certainly not going to be the same," UTM President Holly Hummell-Gorman said.

The district instituted the furlough days in 2010 as years of deficit spending necessitated more than $13 million in cuts over two years. The seven furlough days are worth about $1.4 million.

On Oct. 30, Porter announced an "agreement in principle" with UTM but since then, the one-year contract has been reviewed by union attorneys at the Florida Education Association.

"They took issue with the tentative agreement language," Hummell-Gorman said. "We don't agree to keep it in since that's the language they used to do what they did to us. It must come out."

Porter and the School Board have agreed to no furlough days for the 2013-14 school year. However, the district's proposed contract language would allow for unpaid furloughs if district finances later dictate.

Tuesday, Porter said he's "frustrated" in part because the proposed furlough language is holding up raises. They would range in value from $2,125 to $3,832 per employee but can't be passed along to employees until a contract is finalized.

The district and UTM have held 24 negotiation sessions the past six months.

The district hired Miami-based labor specialist Norton in 2011. At least one negotiating session involving Norton, the UTM bargaining team to walk out. School Board member John Dick said he welcomes Norton's return.

"I think now, with this turn of events and that after 24 meetings they couldn't come to an agreement, I think it definitely shows the problem at the bargaining table was not Mr. Norton but on the other side," he said.

The proposed pay raises, along with no furloughs, is worth $1.88 million. The raises would go to some 525 teachers and 114 school-related personnel like bus drivers and food service workers.

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