For the first time in years, the vast majority of Florida's teachers and school support are heading back to work without a completed contract. Just 30 groups of 150 - or 20 percent - have negotiated deals on money and all the other items on the table, Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow tells the Gradebook. "It certainly hasn't been this way in the past five or six years, at least," Pudlow says.
The issue boils down to financial uncertainty at the state level. No one knows exactly how lawmakers will react to estimates that revenue will come in about $1.5-billion below budgeted projections, so few school folks are willing to make firm commitments.
In Pasco County, for instance, all contract talks have slowed markedly, with even minor language edits falling subject to the fear. "Everyone is worried about every change in language. Will it have a financial effect?" says Lynne Webb, United School Employees of Pasco president. "Everything seems to be in slow motion."
As a result, Pasco won't have a final contract before the first work day for the first time in a decade or longer. It's causing some concerns, Webb says, especially because Hillsborough County - a competitor for employees - has a deal in place.
"It is unsettling," Pudlow says.
The Legislature is scheduled to have a special session on the budget beginning Sept. 18.