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Hernando School District heavy-handed in teacher negotiations

Low morale is cited frequently as a top concern facing teachers. Educators will tell you they are burdened with paperwork, work long hours for relatively small pay and must deal with the top-down edicts passed through their administration from Tallahassee.

So, how does the Hernando School District propose to treat teachers as professionals and to boost morale?

By low-balling them on a contract offer. Then, watering down a revised proposal by tying higher wages to additional work and making newly hired educators wait longer for their first salary bump.

Worse yet, district contract negotiators entwined remuneration with attire. It is an insult to faculty members.

A professional organization that values its front-line, hard-working employees wouldn't have skimped in the first place, but that was the negotiating tactic. In June, the Hernando School Board offered a 1.14 percent salary increase while the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association requested a 5.5 percent raise. It emerged as a leading policy debate in the Hernando School Board race, with candidates questioning if the district could afford a better offer.

Last week, the district confirmed that it could by submitting a revised proposal of a 3.5 percent average salary increase and a 1.5 percent jump to cover more expensive health insurance premiums. Unfortunately, it included additional caveats that devalued its worth — two additional staff meetings a month without compensation and making new hires wait 18 months for their first raise.

Those are details still to be negotiated. But the biggest cause for concern is the insistence by the administration of contract language covering teacher attire. Faculty members already are required to dress professionally.

Apparently, that isn't good enough. The contract proposal spelled out what could and could not be worn. It is a ridiculous overreaction to an undocumented problem. Principals already have the authority to require their staff members to dress appropriately.

Hernando's administrators should check with their brethren in Pasco for a lesson in avoiding such heavy-handed micro-management. Two years ago, top-level administrators in Pasco investigated a teacher dress code banning denim, forbidding popular capri pants for women and recommending neckties for men. The rationalization was that it would assist principals; the same logic is being used in Hernando.

Administrators in Pasco retreated, however, after a survey revealed 37 elementary school principals had conducted 71 one-on-one discussions with staff members about attire, or the equivalent of counseling 2 percent of the schools' workforce. Why change things when you have a 98 percent compliance rate?

Hernando administrators would be wise to follow suit. Adding a new dress code in an all-or-nothing contract proposal sends an ill-advised signal to teachers: They are more valued for their appearance than their performance.

Hernando School District heavy-handed in teacher negotiations 08/27/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 2:35pm]
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