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Teachers, Pinellas school district reach $1.1 million settlement

More than 1,400 middle school teachers will receive about $800 each as part of a $1.1 million settlement reached late Tuesday over a suit filed last month by the Pinellas teachers union.

The suit asked the court to uphold an arbitrator's order that the district return to a six-period day, after the School Board voted in the summer to lengthen the middle school day by 14 minutes and add an additional period.

The teachers have been teaching the additional period since August without added pay. The arbitrator ruled in November that the change violated the teachers' contract, which stipulates that they teach no more than five periods in a seven-period schedule.

Schools will have the option of remaining on the current seven-period day for the rest of the academic year, or they can transition to a "floating seven" block schedule that will allow for uninterrupted planning time before the school day begins.

The district has not yet decided what schedule the teachers will follow next year.

"This late in the game, neither party felt it was in the best interest of students to disrupt their schedules," said union president Kim Black. "A compensatory settlement was the only way to rectify the situation."

She added: "While our contract was violated, hopefully by fighting this battle, we won't have battles of this nature in the future."

Black praised superintendent Julie Janssen for her willingness to settle the suit out of court. She also commended the board for authorizing Janssen to withdraw an impasse the superintendent had filed that stopped collective bargaining on a successor contract.

Janssen notified the Public Employment Relations Commission late Tuesday that the School Board and the union had resolved the issues that led to the impasse, clearing the way for collective bargaining to continue.

The stipulation agreement includes a clause stating that the district has agreed to withdraw the declaration of impasse and continue bargaining until such time as both parties can reach agreement on the issues still under negotiation.

It also includes agreements by the School Board to waive its right to challenge the validity of the arbitration ruling and on the part of the union to dismiss the lawsuit.

School Board attorney Jim Robinson, who maintained at the time the suit was filed that the district had negotiated in good faith with the union to reach a resolution, said Tuesday's settlement is in the best interest of students and teachers.

"It also protects the long-standing good relationship between the district and the union," Robinson said.

Donna Winchester can be reached at winchester@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8413.

Teachers, Pinellas school district reach $1.1 million settlement 02/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:09am]
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