LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County teachers union president Lynne Webb was angry.
District officials have talked about collaborating with the union on key issues, such as changing teacher evaluations and improving academic performance. Yet when push comes to shove, she said, they're not even close.
"Actions must match words. And it can't be focused just on one particular area," Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, told the School Board on Tuesday. "It has to be comprehensive, broad based. And there has to be a respect for the bargaining process. And I have to be truthful with you. I don't feel that is happening here now."
She offered two specific examples.
First, Webb said, the district administration asked to begin contract negotiations for 2011-12 even as the sides remain at impasse over the current unsettled contract. She called the request "inappropriate."
Second, she blasted some administrators for telling middle and high school teachers that they will be teaching six out of six periods a day next year, regardless of negotiations. The USEP has rejected such a proposal to date.
"It is not a done deal, and that message should not be coming across to teachers that way," said Webb, her voice rising in frustration.
More examples abound, she said, small ones that come up daily. These were just two that have many USEP members upset.
She urged board members to insist on a new tone from the administration as the sides attempt to work together on contract terms, budget cuts, Race to the Top proposals and other accountability measures coming from the state and federal governments.
"Tell them to respect the bargaining process in deeds and words, and to not look for loopholes to impose your will," Webb implored. "Show your appreciation for the union because we are, whether you like it or not, the voice of the teachers" and other school-related personnel.
Board members did not respond during their formal meeting.
At their workshop session that immediately followed, though, they discussed Webb's criticisms with superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her top staff.
Chairwoman Joanne Hurley said she had heard other Florida school districts were negotiating two separate employee contracts at the same time and wanted to know more.
Fiorentino said the district budget faces major shortfalls next year, and she thought it prudent to begin preparing for that through negotiations despite the disagreements over the current bargaining.
"We may not have done this before, but we've never been at impasse," Fiorentino said. "We're in different times."
Board member Cynthia Armstrong suggested that the request was a way to "start collaboration early."
Fiorentino also stressed that although the subject of having secondary teachers work six periods a day has come up in budget presentations, along with other ideas such as furloughs, the message is clear that everything is subject to collective bargaining. But the discussion has to take place, and principals need to at least think about how to proceed, because major changes can't occur overnight, assistant superintendent Tina Tiede said.
"Please know we are trying to work in a very collaborative way," Fiorentino told the board. "We have been extending the olive branch and trying to work together."
Webb pledged to keep on trying. She agreed to attend a conference next month in Denver with Fiorentino and Hurley, where they again will talk about district-union relations.
She's taking the concepts seriously, and, "I hope the district is as well," Webb said.
"I hope collaboration will be reality with the district and not just a buzzword."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.