As is all too common, an important party has not been at the table in the negotiations between the Manatee County School District and the Manatee Education Association.
Teachers and teachers’ aides, part of the MEA, voted Friday to reject the contract extension offered by the school district to go to 2013. The district eventually can impose a contract, as it recently did, but that is the last resort. This is an early negotiating position, and as such, the union’s rejection is not totally out of bounds.
Manatee schools are in their fourth year of budget cuts, and it has become a painful exercise for everyone involved.
When the School Board imposed a contract on teachers in June for the 2010-11 year, which it has a legal right and responsible obligation to do after both sides rejected the mediator’s recommendations, it eliminated automatic step increases.
That is the pay raise that teachers were getting on top of the official pay raises, just by dint of being employed another year.
But the district booted on a bigger issue — the self-insured health fund. Employees pay premiums into the fund, and the fund pays healthcare costs through various health plans from which an employee can choose. That fund went from a $2.1 million surplus in 2006 to a $9.4 million deficit at the end of 2010.
That is not sustainable. So the school district planned to increase premiums enough to cover expected costs and erase the deficit within three years. Unfortunately, the School Board caved on the health care payment issues and gave the union what it wanted when it had the power to impose what was necessary.
So, back to who is being left out of the equation.
After Friday’s rejection by the union, Assistant School Superintendent Darcy Hopko told the Bradenton Herald, “We’re going back to the table to get the best plan for the employees and the district.”
So, we have the unionized employees and the school district, which includes the non-unionized employees who traditionally get what unionized workers get. What we do not have in that statement, and normally in the minds of school district negotiators, is the taxpayer. You.
Who is looking out for you? The largest portion of your property taxes goes for schools.
The union exists to fight for the best financial interests of its members. The district and Hopko need to remember — and perhaps be reminded by School Board members — that they are to be looking out for the taxpayer.
+ Scores keep rising
The daggers keep driving into the heart of the argument that schools will only get better with more money.
The Manatee County School District is entering its fourth year of budget cutbacks. In the past three years, it has cut $46 million from its budget and eliminated positions from the district level from the schools and classrooms.
But the Florida Department of Education just released the most recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, and Manatee County schools overall improved this past year — mirroring what has gone on in Sarasota County schools, with budget cutbacks and increased scores.
It may not be clear the explanation for the increased scores, but it is yet more evidence that the testing results are not directly tied to money spent.