Palm Beach County public school teachers could avoid unpaid furloughs next year if they accept a deal without any raises, according to a proposal released on Wednesday.
But school district negotiators also told the Classroom Teachers Association leaders they could go with an alternative offer on the table since April: raises for teachers in the first 10 years of employment only, but also one furlough day during the 2011-12 school year for all teachers. Most other district employees also would have the furlough.
"It is what it is," district Labor Relations Director Van Ludy said. "It is within the budgetary constraints the district faces."
So the choice boils down to this: no furloughs for any district employees and no raises for any teachers; or a one-day furlough for most employees and raises for about 6,500 of the district's 12,050 teachers.
Union President Kathi Gundlach said the district proposals — covering teacher salaries for both the just-completed 2010-11 school year and the upcoming year — were "disheartening" and not conducive to attempts at better relations between the union and district.
"So the honeymoon's over?" she asked, citing a recent period of goodwill between the parties following the election of four new board members last fall and the late February departure of former Superintendent Art Johnson.
Bill Malone, Johnson's successor as schools chief, said the district negotiating team was following the School Board's direction. That is, to increase salaries for the younger teachers even though other employees were losing their jobs and no one else was getting raises because of a monumental budget crisis.
"The whole money thing is very difficult," Malone said.
Other employee unions that represent district workers are monitoring the outcome of the teacher contract negotiations, and the uncertainty concerning the furloughs.
Alphonso Mayfield, president of SEIU-Florida Public Services Union, said he hopes the School Board "treats all employees fairly."
"If money is going to be on the table for teachers, we will approach bargaining that the same offer would be extended to our bargaining unit also," said Mayfield, whose union membership includes 4,200 bus drivers, mechanics, custodians and other workers.
The School Board has said it supports a one-day, unpaid furlough for most of the school district's 21,000 employees, including teachers, to save nearly $5 million. The district would be closed on a day that students are off, such as a teacher planning day.
The average teacher would lose $250 in pay with the furlough, if it stands, Chief Financial Officer Michael Burke said.
The employee furloughs would help the district address a projected $35.2 million shortfall in the district's $1.2 billion operating budget, based on state funding cuts and rising costs. Officials say even with the furloughs, 485 employees already have been told they may not have a job after the fiscal year ends on June 30.
But on Wednesday, district administrators announced the School Board is willing to spare teachers and all employees of the furloughs — but then the teacher raises would have to be dropped.
The proposed budget — which goes to the School Board for tentative approval in late July — includes $8 million to provide for 2.3 percent to 3.2 percent raises for about 6,500 of the district's teachers. The raises would be retroactive to May 1, if the union and district reach agreement before the end of this month.
"It's what we can afford," Ludy said of the two offers. "There isn't any wiggle room."
Officials say their goal is to make starting teacher salaries more competitive with Broward and Miami-Dade counties and other urban school systems in Florida. The district's proposal would raise a beginning teacher's salary from $36,822 to $38,000. That's closer to the $39,000 starting salary in Broward and $38,500 in Miami-Dade.
Last month, the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association rejected the offer, insisting that all teachers receive pay increases, not just some of them.
The union then presented a counteroffer of salary increases for all teachers, retroactive to Jan. 1, and more rounds of raises for most teachers on July 1, and Jan. 1, 2012. These would be pay increases based on years of experience, called steps, which have not been provided since the 2007-08 school year.
The administration put a price tag of nearly $52 million on the increases sought by the union.
On Wednesday, Tony Hernández, the union's interim executive director, said his team would make a new counter-offer at a future bargaining session.
County teachers have not received a pay increase since a 2 percent, across-the-board raise at the start of the 2008-09 school year. All teachers received one-time, $500 bonuses for the 2009-10 school year.
Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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