In contract talks with the Monroe County School District, we began the interest-based bargaining process with our eyes wide open. The "budget reduction" language was identified early on by the United Teachers of Monroe as being a deal breaker.
Both parties knew there were two ways for this permissive language to be removed from the employees' contracts. The "budget reduction" language was going to come out one of two ways: It was going to be agreed upon to be removed from the employees' contracts, or the parties were going to reach an impasse and, regrettably, the School Board chose the latter.
The School Board wants to tout that it is the final decision maker in an impasse. That is true. What it isn't telling the public is that permissive language such as the "budget reduction" language cannot be imposed.
The employees deserve to have an enforceable contract. Keeping that permissive language in our contracts, unfortunately we have learned, doesn't allow for that. Therefore, it was repeatedly stated in bargaining sessions that there is nothing UTM would accept in exchange for retaining that language.
This is the language that the Monroe County School Board invoked for the first time in about 35 years. UTM was willing to come back to the table and find a resolution together three months after the School Board had unanimously approved a contract that it apparently couldn't afford.
As I have been involved in multiple negotiations before this recently failed effort, I can attest to the intent of that language. As it was included back at a time of mutual trust and respect between the board and the employees, it was included to say "hey, if we have some type of issue or financial emergency at some point, let's both agree to come back to the table and find a resolution together."
Regrettably, this language opened the door for the district to walk away from its signed and legally binding word of the last contract and impose its resolution to issues at will.
The Monroe County School District started the 2013-14 school year with an 11 percent total ending fund balance, yet it was still reducing its employees' pay by seven furlough days. The School Board had no need for this; it hadn't reduced its budget nor had it invoked that language for this school year.
Seven furlough days was another issue that was identified early on in the interest based bargaining process. Yet they claim that it was all them -- they were our heroes, they restored our pay.
Let's be clear about this: Restoration is when you pay back what you have taken. The employees had 14 days of pay taken out of their paychecks, none of which has been restored. All that really happened was the employees were brought back to the salaries they were making in 2010-11.
During the final hours at the table, the School Board offered to remove the "budget reduction" language in exchange for an expansion of its "management rights," which comprised language that would essentially take the "budget reduction" language out of one section of the contract and put it in the "management rights" section.
Another section of the "management rights" expansion proposal included language that would allow the School Board to transfer an employee from Key West to Key Largo for work every day. The language that we currently have in our contract in terms of transfers requires our employer to consider the employee's place of residence. Since our district is 105 miles long, the UTM bargaining team didn't feel that expanding those rights would be fair and in the employees' best interest.
The teacher salary increase that has everyone believing that teachers will receive a $2,500 raise wasn't actually funded in such a way that that would be true. However, in UTM's proposal, every teacher, assistant principal and principal would have received a raise of about $1,800 for the 2013-14 school year. This is who the law states the increase is intended for. But not in Monroe.
The School Board's last proposal had a percentage of what each employee would receive for a raise, not an equal share of the money spread among all of our hard working teachers and other employees. While some districts threw other money in the kitty to give their employees at least a $2,500 raise, our district wanted our teachers' raises to range from about $870 to $1,400.
Both sides could agree to raises, but the permissive language in the contract means the School District could change its mind before the ink dried on the contract -- and before a dime of benefit ever made its way to teachers and other deserving employees of the Monroe County School District.
This could have been a time of great healing. However, it does not appear to be what the School Board wants.
Holly Hummell-Gorman is president of the United Teachers of Monroe.