After more than a year of contentious negotiations, School Board on verge of approving contract with union

lkahn@keynoter.comMay 21, 2014 

It's basically a 5.5-week contact, but after more than a year of negotiations that included outside mediation and court filings, the Monroe County School Board is poised to approve a contract May 21 with the United Teachers of Monroe -- and get staff salary increases released.

Monday, union membership ratified the deal. Among teachers, the vote was 323-9 for it. Among school-related personnel, such as bus drivers, food workers and custodial staff, it was 96-1 for the contract.

"That is great, 99 percent of the teachers," board member Andy Griffiths said.

"This is a much better outcome than to go to a hearing," union President Holly Hummell-Gorman said.

If approved as expected at a special board meeting planned for 3 p.m. today at Marathon High School, state money for staff raises will be released to the School District likely by June 10, said Jim Drake, the district's executive director of finance and performance.

The district has to send its plan for the raises to the state Department of Education by May 31, he said.

"My expectation is we will get the plan up to them before the 31st. We have to gather information such as the ratification results and the minutes from the board meeting to show the board approved it," Drake said.

The district would pay out 85 percent of the raises in June 15 paychecks, then the rest in the following three paychecks, he said.

The raises are $1,500 for teachers (between 2.24 percent and 4 percent) plus an additional paid day of work that, depending on base salary, ranges from $225 to $400; a 2 percent raise for school-related personnel totaling $55,000; and a 2 percent raise for principals and assistant principals totaling $43,000.

Non-union staff such as secretaries, clerical workers and administrators will also get 2 percent raises.

The money, except for the non-union raises, comes from $1.25 million the Legislature set aside for the raises (all Florida counties received state money for the raises). The district is financing the non-union raises.

The contract includes language allowing the School Board to impose unpaid furlough days if dictated by finances. In 2011 and 2012, the board imposed seven unpaid furlough days each year to save $1.7 million each year and avoid layoffs.

The contract covers the period from July 1, 2013, to this coming June 30. Then talks on a new deal have to start, but Superintendent Mark Porter said he doesn't see the acrimony from the most recent negotiations carrying over.

"We'll probably start in June. We'll let the school year end and take a couple of weeks off and then start," he said.

He said the fact that the union ratified the pending contract and that the board is likely to approve it May 21 puts both the district and the union on good footing to get off to a fresh start. The board had the option of unilaterally imposing a contract.

"Starting with a ratified contract is better than imposed," Porter said. "I don't think anyone wants to get this far into the impasse."

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