No luck Thursday in Hillsborough teacher negotiations
What happened in the meeting between Hillsborough County school district leaders and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association?
Essentially, negotiations broke down at a time when the district is grappling with a budget crisis and the Gates reforms -- which relied on a cordial relationship with the union -- are coming unravelled.
Here is some of what was said as Mark West, employee relations manager for the district, responded to the union's request for pay raises for both the teachers and support employees.
West: "I'm not going to go on and on about the finances where we are currently because I think you all know, it's been published enough, it's been discussed enough."
"I do want to say that clearly when we started negotiations in May, our intentions were to go in and hopefully finish by July or August by the time school started. That was our intent. But as you know, things came about, lights were opened. There are a lot of things that we have done and we have been able to afford to do in the past. But having looked carefully at every specific detail of the budget for this school year and what's going on right now... we are not able to do everything we would like to do with the limitations of the budget."
West said the district has committed to looking at the teacher salary schedule and honoring past commitments to raise pay according to years of experience. But more than that would not be feasible because "unfortunately, that's the largest part, the largest number of employees."
What's more, he added, "we have to, by law, have a performance pay piece as well."
Teachers at the top of the pay scale will get no raise, he said. And there will be "a bucket" of money for performance bonuses instead of the prior arrangement, which was to allow $2,000 and $3,000 bonuses for the two levels of "highly effective" teachers.
Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the union's executive director, asked for the counter-proposals in writing.
"We have a lot going in in this district where people are talking really nice. We all want to be really nice and respectful," she said.
"You can want to be as nice as possible and we can all want to agree. But without the details, we don't know what you're asking us to agree to. I think that puts everybody in a very difficult position because so far you've pretty much come to the table and asked to take rights or money away from everyone. You can certainly make that proposal but you have to be more specitic about what that means."
West said much will depend on how the district decides to handle teacher evaluations, something a new committee is now pondering.
Baxter-Jenkins: "But again, there's a state law. Whatever the evaluation system is, performance pay is required."
West: "So you're saying you need specifics?"
Baxter-Jenkins: "I certainly think it is safe to say my level of trust is really low at this point. So yes, I think for me to be able to explain to our members what you're asking for, I need more than, 'it's limited to a bucket of money.'"
At that point West addressed Baxter-Jenkin's proposal to redo the pay schedule for educational support personnel, a group that includes secretaries and classroom aides.
Baxter-Jenkins wanted to phase in a system that would raise their starting pay from $9.12 to $10.77 an hour.
West: "Much as we would like to commit as much money as we possibly can to our lower paid employees -- we definitely would want to do that over time -- this year, with the limited number of funds, the district has proposed that we move all ESP's one level, collapse that lower level and move from there." In other words, a modest wage increase but not the schedule Baxter-Jenkins wanted.
Baxter-Jenkins: "I'm glad you're comfortable leaving your employees living in poverty."
West: "I'm not saying I'm comfortable."
Baxter-Jenkins: "Are these your hard proposals on money?"
West: "Yes, and I apologize we don't have these in writing."
The union negotiators then asked West to repeat his position about the teacher pay and support worker pay. Baxter-Jenkins asked him about a request to pay more money to psychologists and other workers who are being asked to do more, now that schools are being discouraged from suspending disruptive students.
"Are you not responding at this point to all our other pieces?" she asked. "Or should I assume your answer is no?"
West: "At this point we're saying we're having to look at the bare bones minimum."
Baxter-Jenkins: "It's extra convenient to do that after you reorganized your managmgent. You don't have to comment on that..... So wait. We're not even going to pay for fingerprinting for employees who have been here 20 years? Wow. You might as well just go."
As West and the other district officials began packing their belongings, Baxter-Jenkins continued:
"You could -- by the way, though -- I really think you should make sure you take back the message that you said nothing to any person at this table that indicated you care about school culture or jobs they do for students every day. We have no problem putting managers in place in this district and we do a lot of other things. Budgets are a reflection of priorities and I think your employees are clearly not one of them."