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Teachers' raises spark friction

The issue of raises for Citrus County's more than 850 public schoolteachers reignited friction between the union and administrators Friday despite earlier efforts to cool hostilities.

When the Citrus County Education Association returned to the bargaining table for contract talks this April, union officials proposed a new form of negotiating called "conceptual bargaining."

The idea of the new format was to provide more communication about what each team wanted and less of the confrontational atmosphere that turned last year's talks into out and out war.

But when CCEA's team came to the table Friday hoping to start talking about salary increases, the message from chief administration spokesman Ed Murphy was clear: There will be no discussions of dollars until the School Board is presented the budget Tuesday.

The discussions that followed looked remarkably like the standard adversarial proposal trading that has characterized bargaining in past years.

On the issue of raises, the union team argued that it already had presented a proposal seeking $2.2-million in raises and was waiting for a counterproposal from Murphy.

"We keep skirting over the compensation and insurance" sections of the contract, said union spokesman Vincent Treacy. "We've gotten a lot of maybes."

"We're waiting for your total package counter (proposal)," added Carl Harner, executive director of CCEA. "If you can't give us that now, give us a call when you can."

"I guess that'll be on the 13th," Murphy responded, ending the Friday session abruptly until the July 13 meeting.

The abrupt end capped several hours of sometimes sharp debate between the two teams over both the monetary and non-monetary issues.

Harner and Treacy both accused Murphy of "escalating" the differences between the two teams by some of the administration's counterproposals. In normal bargaining, the rules state that each new proposal should bring the sides closer together rather than farther apart.

By "escalating" on those issues, they said Murphy was violating the rules of bargaining.

But Murphy countered that his suggestions on changes in the contract had promoted discussion and that was the very core of the conceptual bargaining idea.

One issue that drew particular interest from CCEA was a discussion of how future school improvement teams will be selected. A change in the law earlier this year requires that team members are elected by their peers _ teachers electing teachers, parents electing parents.

But several of the Citrus school improvement teams have no requirement that the existing team members step down and therefore there would be no need for peer elections.

Murphy and school principals said they will obey the law. Harner responded that the agreement to follow the law was "hollow" and added, "Isn't it pathetic that you have to have a law to change?"

Despite the biting comments that characterized Friday's session, previous discussions restricted to non-monetary contract issues have produced tentative agreements. The teams already have agreed on issues such as access to personnel files, the complaint procedure, assignments and transfers.