The Citrus County teachers union is focusing on Superintendent Carl Austin's $78,000 salary as a prime example of the inequity in funding between schoolteachers and administrators.
After a full day of grappling with contract issues before a federal mediator Thursday, the Citrus County Education Association and the administration remained deadlocked.
When issuing his statements after the closed-door mediation, union executive director Carl Harner made it clear that the next round in the contract process is likely to include a close look at just where the Citrus school district spends its dollars.
"We'll be looking with a very, very fine-toothed comb," he said.
Using statistics from the Department of Education, Harner said he has learned that while Austin's salary ranked 44th in the state in the 1983-84 school year, that rank improved to 26th in the last school year.
Teachers didn't fare so well, however.
While the the average teachers salary rose from its 1983-84 level of 53rd in the state, it rose only to 43rd in the state last year, when teachers made an average salary of $27,166.
"What's interesting to us is the rapid upward trend" in Austin's salary, Harner said. "All we're asking for is parity and fairness."
Harner also points to state figures that show Austin made $76,666 in the fall of 1991, a salary higher than that of the Marion school superintendent, who earned $75,491 and who has a much larger student body and staff to manage.
Austin could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
The union's attack is yet another chapter in what is unfolding as the most divisive contract talks since 1984-85, when the School Board was forced to impose a contract.
Since the talks began late this summer, union officials have sent sharply worded newsletters to teachers to inform them of the progress on reaching a contract agreement with administrators. At least one of those newsletters questioned Austin's commitment to teachers.
That prompted Austin to send a detailed letter to every teacher in the district last week explaining the administration's positions, especially on the sensitive issue of raises.
With the end of mediation on Thursday, the stage is set for new clashes between the teachers union and the administration. While the union is seeking to have the contract settled directly by the board to save time, money and energy, if the administration asks for a hearing before a special master, the union will have to comply.
A special master, paid for by both the union and the administration, would conduct a fact-finding hearing in which both sides will present what they want to see in the contract. The special master's recommendation would go to the School Board for final approval or the board could set the contract on its own.
Chief administration spokesman Ed Murphy had little to say about his next step after Thursday's mediation. Harner, however, said that Murphy will likely ask for the special master.
Union President Chris Becker said his team wants to see the special master bypassed, because it would speed up pay increases to teachers and would save the cost of the special master and of pulling the team out of the classroom again.
"We know what we want to say to the board. We've prepared our presentation," he said.
Salary remains the primary sticking point in the negotiations along with issues of planning periods, accountability legislation and teacher transfer provisions.
When the union, went to impasse several weeks ago, they were seeking raises on the salary schedule of 6 percent for the county's most experienced teachers and 3 percent for all other teachers with the starting salary remaining at $21,000.
Administrators had offered a $200 increase on the salary schedule for teachers with the most experience and one-time bonuses that amounted to about 2 percent for all teachers.