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Hernando School Board, teachers divided on contract offer

BROOKSVILLE — Superintendent Wayne Alexander is predicting that contract negotiations between the Hernando County School Board and its teachers union could be wrapped up within a month.

He said the latest board proposal is a bargain the union should grab with both hands.

"We have the largest offer on the table in the state," Alexander said last week, referring to the 5 percent raise the board has tendered. "Many counties are going with (salary scale) step increases, if that."

Not so fast, say officials with the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. They believe the true value of the offer is being obscured by the inclusion of health insurance increases. Alexander last spring got a 5.5 percent raise, plus money for health insurance increases, said union president Joe Vitalo.

"He received a 5.5 percent salary increase plus 1.5 percent for insurance, and he received his gas allowance, which comes out to 0.7 percent," Vitalo said. "We should also be looking at 7.7 percent. Don't play the shell game with us."

Nor is the union happy about strings the board attached to its offer.

In a proposal described as a package deal — take it or leave it — the board said teachers should agree to a dress code that includes specific prohibitions on items like blue jeans, shorts, tank tops and sneakers.

Such contract language implies teachers cannot be trusted to dress appropriately, and ignores the fact that principals already have the power to enforce appropriate staff attire, Vitalo said.

"Some days I'm on a field trip or doing a lab, and I have to dress appropriately," he added. "Can't a vocational teacher wear blue jeans when they're working around engines?"

The union has proposed a single sentence to resolve the dress code issue: "Bargaining unit members will dress appropriately and professionally for their job assignments."

"I think that's very close to what we're looking for," Alexander said, describing union worries over the definition of "sneaker" as easily resolved.

The board also wants teachers to accept two additional, unpaid meetings per month. The union suggests taking those hours from an extra training day in the current contract.

Negotiators are scheduled to meet again Sept. 18, when the union is expected to respond formally to the salary offer. Once they reach a deal, unions representing nonteaching staff will likely negotiate over similar terms.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando School Board, teachers divided on contract offer 08/31/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 6:48pm]

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