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Officials, teachers sit down to talk

When Citrus teachers voted by a 5 to 1 margin against ratifying their contract with the School Board in January, they rejected more than just the frozen salary schedule.

Because of the procedures required in contract settlements, their vote also nullified non-monetary changes in the contract that both sides had already agreed to accept.

In the next few weeks, teachers will get another chance to agree with those language changes in a second ratification vote.

Citrus County Education Association and administration representatives returned to the bargaining table Monday morning to salvage the language changes each side had agreed on during last year's contract talks.

Agreements had been reached on changes in the contract wording in areas such as the existing complaint procedure, personnel files, transfers and the time a teacher can leave school during the school day.

"I told Vince (Treacy, union spokesman) that I hoped that this could be the kickoff to improved relations for the coming year," said Ed Murphy, administration team spokesman.

The meeting was the first opportunity to demonstrate improved relations since CCEA representatives and Superintendent Carl Austin got into a debate at the School Board meeting last week. The outcome of that argument was an agreement by both sides to try harder at getting along.

During Monday's session, Treacy questioned what changes in bargaining Austin had been referring to at last week's board meeting. Murphy said he replied that the willingness of the administration to come back to the table Monday and allow a vote on the contract language was "the proof of the pudding" that the administration wanted to work for better relations.

Contract talks for the coming school year could get started by April, but no date was set during Monday's session.

Those talks will involve discussion of the entire contract _ something that happens every three years. Every other year, the CCEA can discuss just salary and benefits and one other article in the contract.