Increases in health insurance contribution among items

 

Gulf Education Association negotiators settled final details on contract language and salaries last week with Gulf District Schools, but they were less than thrilled having to accept the district’s “best and last offer.”

The settlement agreed to last Tuesday must still be approved by the union rank-and-file and the Gulf County School Board.

The union representing district teachers and non-instructional employees settled on language that adds $50 to the district’s contribution to health insurance, bringing the district’s tab on health insurance to $675 per year.

Teachers in years 3-24 will also receive annual step increases, which average 1-1.25 percent across the salary scale and which were already part of contractual language between union and district.

In addition, addressing teachers who did not receive raises last year, the district will provide a $500 one-time bonus to teachers who have maxed out on the salary scale.

The district estimated approximately 40 teachers with at least 25 years experience will be impacted.

On the non-instructional side, a proposal to provide the same one-time bonus to employees with at least 25 years with the district was countered by the union, and agreed to by the district, with a proposal for a 15 cent per hour across the board raise.

The union had initially sought to bolster each step on the teacher salary scale by $1,000, later in negotiations dropping the demand to $700.

But the district argued that it lacked the money.

District negotiators said the district’s un-restricted fund balance was at 4 percent, below the recommended 5 percent but still above the state-mandated 3 percent.

But that fund would fall under that mandate if the district met either demand to increase steps across the scale.

“We can not afford what is proposed,” said Leonard Dietzin, the district’s lead negotiator. “It would truly put the board in a precarious position.”

In countering demands for that increase, district negotiators also pointed to state merit bonuses that will be arriving this week for teachers.

Under the state’s move to a merit-pay system in 2011, teachers rated as effective ($800) or highly effective ($1,200) this past year will receive one-time bonuses.

The district had no teachers rated as not effective or in need of improvement, therefore all district teachers will receive a bonus.

Union negotiators argued the bonuses were a one-time bump and should not be seen as a replacement for district contribution to better teacher and employee pay.

Dietzin said the district was contributing over $142,000 to meeting contractual step increases and over $65,000 with the increase in health insurance contributions.

In addition, Dietzin noted a particularly high bill, over $600,000, this year in terminal leave payments to those retiring from the system, which impacted available funding.

The money was simply not there, which union negotiators, allowed a review of the district’s books with financial officer Sissy Worley, agreed was the case.

“We want to be transparent,” Worley said. “We want to be a team.”

The union’s issue, and one they intend to revisit as the entire contract is opened for negotiation later this year, was, negotiators argued, the district’s spending priorities.

In particular, a “top-heavy” organizational structure for 1,900 students which includes 13 administrators, district and school-site, with combined salaries of over $1 million; none of them making less than $71,000 per year.

That $1 million, union negotiators pointed out, does not include benefits, including state retirement.

Another factor looming over negotiations, at least from the union viewpoint, was legislation currently moving through the Florida Legislature.

An omnibus education bill passed in 2017 constrained or eliminated some education funding and the threat of a recurrence with an omnibus education bill debated last week in Tallahassee weighed for the union to lean toward settling, and away from a potential impasse, before the Legislature adjourns.

The legislative bill could eliminate other public school funding and impact the ability of unions to represent employees, as just two examples of concern as the bill moves through the Legislature.

District officials have said for much of the past year that, depending on the impacts of legislation and budgeting for education during the 2018 session, they could be forced to declare the need for a reduction in the workforce.