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What did they think 'contract' meant?

For starters, three conclusions about the fight between the Pinellas School Board and its middle school teachers.

(1) The School Board violated the teachers' contract by requiring them, without their consent, to teach a new schedule with more classes this year.

(2) The remedy that the teachers want — an immediate return to the old schedule — would now be impractical if not catastrophic. It would hurt students and even some teachers, not to mention taxpayers.

(3) On the other hand, this problem is "too late to fix" precisely because of the School Board's bad acts. The board and its top management shouldn't get off scot-free.

It's not just me saying that the School Board violated the teachers' contract. An arbitrator made that ruling in November, saying the schools should go back to their old schedule.

In response, Superintendent Julie Janssen said, more or less: Forget it. We ain't changing. Too many students would be affected. We'd have to lay off and reassign teachers, too.

"I cannot in good conscience," Janssen wrote, "disrupt the educational programs for middle school students for the second semester and agree to displace the number of teachers that will be impacted by such a change."

And you know, I believe her. But it is too bad that Janssen's good conscience didn't prevent a violation of the teachers' contract last summer in the first place.

Yes, the times are terrible. This schedule change saved the district $2.2-million, which is a lot of money, although only a tiny fraction of its overall budget cuts this year.

But it violates the contract.

Yes, the new seven-period schedule gives more options to students trying to fulfill various requirements.

But it violates the contract.

Yes, some teachers liked the new schedule, and some even cooperated with management in drafting it.

But it violates the contract.

And, yes, when a new contract is finally negotiated, the teachers and School Board might agree on this kind of schedule anyway. But in the meantime, it still violates the old contract.

I suppose one could say that despite all this, tough noogies for the teachers, those whiny so-and-sos. They should be grateful to have a job at all. They should be willing to sacrifice.

But nobody held a gun to the School Board's head. This is the contract it negotiated and approved. What's the board's rule for contracts — that they count until they are inconvenient?

I'd be curious to see how firefighters or police officers or anybody else would react to a unilateral decision that their deal had changed.

For that matter, I'd be curious to see how the Pinellas school superintendent and her top management would react to their own involuntary pay cut.

So here's where matters stand. The teachers have gone to court. The School Board wants a mediation on a new contract instead. If the new schedule becomes part of the new contract anyway, then the board figures the whole thing is moot.

But the board had better hope that a judge doesn't rule for the teachers first. On that catastrophic day, the School Board will try to blame the teachers. But it will be the board's own fault.

What did they think 'contract' meant? 01/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 8:05pm]
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