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Hernando school district's contract proposal targets teachers' attire

BROOKSVILLE — Fashion police, dress thyselves.

That's the message from the Hernando County School Board to district teachers. Under its latest contract proposal, teachers would have to abide by the same dress code students follow, and then some.

Blue jeans, shorts, tank tops and tennis shoes or sneakers would be out, with some exceptions being made for physical education teachers. Teachers would be "expected to dress professionally every day," except on administration-approved spirit days.

The board also offered a financial carrot to the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association, in the form of a 3.5 percent average salary increase, plus a 1.5 percent increase to cover higher health insurance premiums. That offer was a far cry from the 1.14 percent the board offered last June, and nearly matches the union's initial request for a 5.5 percent raise.

With the new dress code language, the contract talks now provide nearly a direct parallel to the dominant themes this summer at the School Board: clothes and money.

Even as they grappled with a $4.5-million budget shortfall because of plunging tax revenues, board members have fielded dozens of complaints about proposed changes to the student dress code, which establishes minimum standards without mandating specific uniforms.

While several school administrators and teachers said they'd prefer a simple student uniform of polo shirts and khakis to their current role as "fashion police," changes to the code were postponed until January.

But inappropriate faculty attire has also drawn its share of complaints, said business services director Heather Martin.

"Our board members and superintendent have heard from community members, 'You're requiring our students to follow a dress code, but look at this teacher,' " she said.

Teachers' union president Joe Vitalo said Friday that board policy already requires teachers to dress "professionally and appropriately." The vast majority of teachers come to work dressed at least as well as students, he said, and administrators quickly correct those who don't.

"That doesn't have to be taken care of by contract language," Vitalo added, criticizing what he described as an effort to "tell adults how to dress for work."

He said the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association would consider the new offer before issuing a response next week.

But the union also sees problems with district proposals for two new, monthly staff meetings that would come without additional compensation, and with a change to the bargaining year that would force new teachers to wait 18 months for their first salary-step increase.

"You're asking for our time but you don't want to compensate us for it," Vitalo said, referring to the new meetings. "Teachers are already (working) a lot of time on their own."

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

Hernando school district's contract proposal targets teachers' attire 08/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2008 4:07pm]

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