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Foregoing Raise to Top Staff, School Board Awards 2% to Most Others But Cuts Schedules

| June 22, 2011

Katie Hansen, in red, addressing the Flagler County School Board Tuesday evening, concluding a slog through months of pay and employment negotiations. (© FlaglerLive)

It was a surprising silence.

After getting the school board’s approval for raises to teacher and support employees’ salaries, Tuesday evening, Superintendent Janet Valentine recommended that the same 2 percent raise be applied to the district’s 84 administrators and professional staff. That group of employees is not covered by the district’s collective bargaining agreement, through the bulk of the district’s employees (whether they’re part of the union or not) were getting their 2 percent raise.

“The reason we’re requesting this is, this group of staff did not receive any increase for the 2010-2011 year,” Valentine said, though few public employees in Flagler County have been getting any raises for the past two years, and few are getting any next year. An administrator making $81,736 would have had a $1,635 raise. Comparatively, a teacher making $44,398 is getting an $888 raise.

There was a long silence when Valentine made the recommendation. Then board member Andy Dance made a motion to approve it. Sue Dickinson, who chairs the board, asked for a second. There was another long silence. “Motion dies for lack of second.”

“That was interesting,” Katie Hansen, president of the Flagler County Education Association, the teachers union, said shortly afterward. “I’m a little bit surprised that they did not vote in favor of administrators getting pay raises. That’s a first for them.”

Earlier in the evening, the board ratified a series of agreements with the unions that put an end to long and tortuous negotiations over what to cut this year, and by how much. The district wanted to cut $3.5 million from its budget. It has come close. The unions resisted, and managed to diminish the severity of some cuts, by constantly pointing to the district’s $9 million reserve as proof that conditions are not as dire as the board is making them seem. Last December, in a separate set of negotiations that hit an impasse at one point, the board agreed to restore a “step” pay increase of an average of 2 percent for most teachers and support personnel (a “step” is essentially a contractual pay raise for every additional year’s experience). That increase will cost the district $1.2 million.

The board was hoping for that increase to be taken as a concession, enabling it to press for the other cuts–in school time and in the number of days employees work, both of which meant either loss of jobs or pay.

The district and the union agreed earlier in spring to reduce the school day at the middle and high school level by 45 minutes each day. The reduction will translate into a loss of around 40 teachers. The loss in the quality of education students will receive is less calculable, but considerable.

“We have never had this few an amount of instructional time at the high school level, ever,” Warren Sanson, a math teacher at Flagler Palm Coast High School, told the board. “And of course I got my calculator out, and some of you have received the statistics on this. This amounts to 21 instructional days in a year that is being cut from these students. Twenty-one. To put that in perspective, if we added four weeks to Christmas vacation and basically cut school completely in the middle of December and did not show up until maybe the day after Groundhog’s Day, that is what we’re talking about. We could shut the whole school down, we could shut the whole system down. That would be a savings. What this will mostly affect is the students I teach which are the upper level because of the incredible content that has to be crammed into the day, and also who it will mostly affect are the kids on the bottom who just need a little more time to kind of get it.”

When it came time for the board to vote on a series of proposals that included the cuts in instructional time–“I agree with Mr. Sanson, it is a drastic measure,” Valentine said–the board voted, with little discussion, to ratify the proposals, on a 4-1 vote. Colleen Conklin was the lone dissenter. “I did not agree to the cut in schedule,” Conklin said.

“Unfortunately we have been able to ward it off for a long period of time,” Dickinson said. “Unfortunately we’re just at a point where choices have become very difficult. Our decisions are not easy, but we have to do what we have to do in order to maintain a budget.”

To save more money, the district wanted to cut the number of days non-teachers put in, including administrators. The unions argued the cuts went too far.

“We kept coming back and saying , I am not going to agree to anything unless you can show me down to the penny how much this is truly going to save,” Hansen said. “It took a ridiculous amount of time to finish, mostly because the information over and over and over again that was provided to us was inaccurate, was inconsistent, had errors in it, to the point where I finally provided them a data spreadsheet to plug numbers in just so that we would have accurate information.” Some of the district’s cost-saving measures, such as the revamping of teachers’ planning periods to the beginning or the end of the school day, are still, by the district’s own reckoning,  “to be determined.”

The district wanted to cut year-long employees by six days. The final agreement was to cut them by four days. Employees working 226 days and 216 days (guidance counselors, media specialists and adult education employees, for example), were going to be cut by five days. The unions got that cut down to two days. The employees working 206 days were to be cut by five days. The unions got that proposal eliminated entirely.

The reduction in days will save $227,000 next year.

Despite the 2 percent raise (which does not apply to all employees), virtually every school employee will actually see a pay cut this coming year because of the 3 percent of gross pay employees must now contribute to their state pension, because of reduced work days for most non-teaching staff, because of higher health insurance premiums, and–a factor seldom mentioned–because of still-rising inflation. Inflation alone in the past three years has virtually negated any modest salary gains for those rank-and-file public employees that have received them.

Hansen doesn’t dispute that cost savings may be in order. But she does dispute the district’s scenarios. “Once you started looking at actually how much it was going to save the district. when you compare what it’s going to save the district out of their whole pot of money with $9.1 million in the reserve fund versus what it’s going to hurt the employee with the 3 percent cut with [the Florida Retirement System], then the days cut, insurance has gone up, to us it’s a little tiny drop in this huge bucket of money versus what it’s really going to hurt each and every one of these employees, and that’s why we fought so hard against it.”

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19 Responses for “Foregoing Raise to Top Staff, School Board Awards 2% to Most Others But Cuts Schedules”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    It is a sad day when you have to engage into this type of foolishness and believe that you are running schools. Every decision that they are having to make is a poor one I would NOT want to serve on the school board at this time. Teacher morale is going to be very low and the shorting of school day and time is going to hurt kids. It is not a school system, it is more like a train running off the track!

  2. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Get rid of the unions and they’ll all get more in their paychecks. Get rid of the unions and offer those teachers a job who want to work a full day teaching and doing other administrative duties teachers used to do as a matter of course. No more teachers’ aides and assistants — eliminate time and money-wasting seminars and meetings

    All public school employees should stay in their offices and do all their work themselves. Outsource bus, food and custodial services. We’ll get better services for a lot less money that way — and also, it would be nice if the media would stop equating increased spending with short changing “the children.”

    Out-of-control spending of taxpayer money on the public schools has resulted in more bureaucracy and money for the unions to give to elect Democrats to continue the vicious cycle, not for better educated graduates, in fact, it has resuted in quite the opposite.

  3. Liana G says:

    “Superintendent Janet Valentine recommended that the same 2 percent raise be applied to the district’s 84 administrators and professional staff”

    ““The reason we’re requesting this is, this group of staff did not receive any increase for the 2010-2011 year,” Valentine said, though few public employees in Flagler County have been getting any raises for the past two years, and few are getting any next year. An administrator making $81,736 would have had a $1,635 raise. Comparatively, a teacher making $44,398 is getting an $888 raise. ”

    WTH? I wonder who put her up to this? This does not seem like her doing but I could be wrong. Keep a close eye on those funds folks! The sharks are swarming!

    @ Dr Guines – Amen to that

    @ Mr Sanson – Thank you for highlighting the dire consequences of another dumb decision our school district is notorious for making.

  4. Jim Guines says:

    It blows my mind that I have not heard of any discussion about the salary increase for the board which is provided by the state. When will the board take up its own salary? That should be some interesting decision making!

  5. Not enough says:

    How about differentiating pay for classroom and non-classroom teachers? Classroom teachers have far more responsibilities than special area teachers, especially at the elementary level. Talk about low morale amongst the classroom teachers.

  6. Amy Fulmer says:

    Obviously you are a regular elementary teacher, I taught special area for 15 years before teaching chorus at the high school. If you think “special area is so easy” then Why don’t you become a music teacher? But wait, Can you play piano and sing 7 songs for a jury of music faculty in at least 4 different languages?
    It is absolutely wrong what you are saying here and it is disrespectful for the teachers in the special areas. They all have worked so hard to get degrees in teaching something beautiful like music and art that our kids need badly but our school does not give them enough of…, the special area teachers should be thought of as your partner in the endeavor of teaching, not your adversary. You school has one music teacher and she/he has to teach all 1100plus kids! Most teachers have 30 kids a day, they have 150 different students a day – and they make the same as you – wow, they sound like a bargain to me! You are doing exactly what the politicians want, slingin mud at the other teachers and anonymously no doubt!

  7. popo3984 says:

    and why get rid of the unions they protect the American worker just another example of a tea bagger trying to ruin this country

  8. Sue Dickinson says:

    I was going to get in this blog but it appears to be heading in the wrong direction. Dr. Giuines states this is a train running off the tracks well folks looking at reality its a head on train wreck.

  9. Joe says:

    Its more like a train with 4 engineers ( The Board, Admins, and the 2 unions )trying to drive it and none of them can decide which tracks are the best route to get its passengers to the station. I don’t know why Pierre left out info on the professional staff, they are the people who are really getting screwed in this deal.

  10. John Boy says:

    Outsourcing really wroks? Look at the Military, we have twice as many contractors as we have active duty soliders. The contractors by enlarge are all former military personeel making 3 to 5 times what the active soliders are making. Then you have to think about the companies employing the contractors, yes they are making at least a 25% profit. Any idiot who advocates any form of outsourcing has his/her head in the sand or is politically motivate to continue to run this country into the ground. There is no need for a Union in this environment,because our corrupt politicans take sufficent bribes from these companies to make the destruction worth while regardless of the long range implications and costs

  11. Liana G says:

    I guess since the train is headed for ‘a head on train wreck’ it makes it justifiable to throw the kids under the train while robbing it blind. Just freaking give them kool aid – that at least is humane!

  12. Bill McGuire says:

    I say again, get the state government out of the school administration business and everyone concerned can win. The financial woes of our school district are solvable except where state mandates tie the hands of the school administration.

  13. Nancy N. says:

    @lawabidingcitizen – exactly what do you think all those teacher’s aides are doing anyway? Fetching coffee for the teacher? Why don’t you try visiting a classroom with a teacher’s aide and see what they actually do? Many, many of the paraprofessionals in this district are aides in classrooms with ESE children – children with some sort of disability. They help in classrooms where teachers are managing children with a variety of physical or developmental special needs. In my daughter’s autism classroom at the elementary school, she and her 6-8 (usually) classmates or so typically have had a teacher and two aides to manage them, a ratio that just barely manages to keep the group under control at times, as autistic children can easily get out of control especially in the stimulating environment of a large group setting. I’d challenge you to try to take charge of 8-10 autistic kids, by yourself, for 6 hours and get anything educational done…and then tell me that we don’t need aides and “teachers should do all their own work.” Those aides are necessary not just for those kids’ education, but for their downright SAFETY in the classroom environment. Those aides are doing a job that is necessary, and that you would probably never have the patience to survive 30 minutes of. You should be applauding the amazing dedication they give to what they do for the small amount they get paid, not suggesting they are disposable.

  14. Kim says:

    Nancy N…I agree with you! My paras are some of the hardest working people I know and yet are some of the lowest paid workers. Thank you Helen, Sandy, Donna and the other wonderful paras!!!

  15. Liana G says:

    @ Nancy N and Kim – spot on! One day as I was observing/volunteering in a middle school low functioning multi-VE classroom, a 15 year old male student (5’9″ / 150 lbs), gripped one of the paras ( 5ft / 100 lbs), behind her neck in such a manner that she collasped onto the floor in pain. An hour later, the para was bringing him an extra serving of broccli and cheese rice that was on the lunch menu that day because it was his favorite. I looked at her in amazement and said “did he not just had you crying in pain on the floor?”, she shrugged and said “he doesn’t understand what he did”. She has been doing this for 15 years and only makes $11.00+ per hour and she is a the top of her wage scale. That was definitely an eye opener for me. I’m not sure if I had it in me then to take him extra rice. I would now. She helped me to see the world from a different view.

  16. Mike says:

    My only wish would be that people who have no knowledge on a given subject please do not comment. People are quick to assume that teachers and people in the education field have things soooooo easy, because, after all, “They have summers off.” Please. 95% do NOT have summers off. And if this is your opinion, by all means, why don’t you get off your lazy @sses and BECOME an educator? Then we will see how very “easy” it is! I predict most who are spouting diarrhea of the mouth would last a maximum of one month before they fold under the pressure.

    There exists a couple of idiots who have become fixtures here at Flaglerlive. Every chance they get, they bad mouth teachers and unions, totally flabbergasted that their precious tax dollars are being used for our counties most precious commodity: Education, children, Police and Firefighters. My question to you: Where would YOU be without these people AND their unions? Probably very uneducated, robbed at gunpoint, and fried into a crispy critter. Our public workers NEED unions to fight tyrannical zealots (such as your precious Rick Scott) and protect them from more travesties. If you do not like where your tax dollars are going, perhaps you can move? I am quite sure, much to your consternation, that you will be taxed MORE in other areas of the country for these services though, making your miserable hides retreat back here once again to make our lives miserable.

    Those addle-brained simpletons who continue to spout nonsense, I say only one more thing. Perhaps the reason you are not an educator is simple. To teach something, you must actually know something. You must have acquired knowledge, patience, and perseverance. These qualities are sadly lacking, right “lawabiding”?

  17. Jim Guines says:

    The only regret I have is that it is too little too late. The national pattern was clear, Scott told everyone what he would do to education, and everyone marched right into the mess with no resolve to fight back on behalf of what was needed, Even now after being cut, pushed, and forced to live with conditions that we know are no good for education, and we still want to be nice boys and girls and not fight back. I think the system is no stronger than its board and superintendent. I would like to believe that there is some fight left in this group, but it looks like it is directed at each other and not Scott and company.

  18. NBCT Teacher says:

    Great Job Katie!! You are an awesome leader for the teachers in Flagler County. Keep up the good fight! Those knuckleheads out there don’t either understand or want to agree that taxing the middle class will NOT balance the budget! Go Get Em!

  19. Jack J says:

    Seems like that old saying “Don’t critize until you have walked in their shoes” is appropriate now. There are so many people who critize what people are doing in education who don’t know anything about what goes on in a typical day of a teacher. Let the professional educators make the important decisions.

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