Pinellas has been "outgunned" by teachers union, Sher says
The Pinellas County School Board has been "outgunned" by the teachers union in salary and benefits negotiations, the past chairman of the Pinellas Education Foundation said Thursday.
Craig Sher served as foundation chairman at a time of frequent conflict between the foundation, the district and the union. He told the Times editorial board Thursday that new chairman Jim Myers is more conciliatory. Myers, Sher and Terry Boehm, president of the foundation, agreed that relations have improved since superintendent Mike Grego took over the school district last year.
Sher told the editorial board that the union has "had the upper hand" when it comes to negotiating for benefits, working conditions and hours. He cited health insurance policies and pay outs for accummulated sick leave. He said the union has "professionals" who have beat the district's negotiating team, and he said the School Board hasn't had the will to fight the union.
The school district and the union clashed last year over health insurance and raises, with negotiations going on longer than ever before. Pinellas was the last school district in the Tampa Bay area to settle its contract. Pinellas teachers received raises, gave up early release Wednesday and agreed to a new health insurance plan. The plan cost some employees more and others less, but saved the school district $12 million over two years. (The savings paid for the raises.)
Sher emphasized that his comments were his opinion only.
"I think also the board, and again this is me, I think the board has been reluctant to really engage in hard core negotiations," he said.
Grego, who attended the editorial board meeting, said he didn't agree that the district has been outgunned. He said that many school district employees, including a lot of teachers, make small salaries. That makes benefits important.
"Benefits matter to folks," he said.
The average teacher in Pinellas earned $45,837 in the 2010/11 school year.
Sher, Myers and Boehm overall were complimentary of Grego's leadership, with Sher saying that Grego "leads the board instead of the board leading" him. Grego is the School Board's employee, but is charged with day-to-day operations.