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From “I’m Not a Dog” To Compromising Bullets as Teachers Union and District Negotiate

| March 12, 2012

The negotiating session between the Flagler County school district and its teacher union was as tense as it was crowded late Monday afternoon. (FlaglerLive)

The whistling incident might best illustrate how tense and frayed relations have become between the Flagler County school district and its teacher union. It took place this afternoon, a little more than an hour into the first bargaining session between the two sides since the school board earlier this month rescinded its vote ratifying the teachers’ 2012 contract and the union charged “bad faith” in return.

Some 50 teachers had turned up to back up their negotiating team, opposite seven district administrators and their chief negotiator, Jerry Copeland. They were all crammed into the conference room adjacent to the school superintendent’s office, on the third floor of the Government Services Building—a room best fit for half the numbers in attendance.

Discussion had turned to a detail about teacher evaluations. A few teachers spoke up to clarify a point. And then it happened.

Copeland whistled—a four-toned, rising whistle not unlike the sort blown out to get a dog’s attention.

“Please don’t do that,” Katie Hansen, president of the Flagler County Educators Association and the lead negotiator, shot back immediately.

“Pardon me?” Copeland said.

“Please don’t do that,” Hansen repeated.

“Do what?”

“I’m not a dog. I don’t prefer to be whistled at,” Hansen said.

Jerry Copeland, sitting at right. Click on the image for larger view. (FlaglerLive)

“I wasn’t whistling at you. We had conversations going on all over the room,” Copeland said, prompting Will Vargas, a service unit leader with the Florida Educators Association and Hansen’s co-negotiator, to tell Copeland that “the rest of our members aren’t dogs, either.”

It hadn’t been a pleasant afternoon—or fortnight—for either side. They’re negotiating amendments to the current year’s teacher contract. They’re hung up on one issue: how teachers are to be evaluated by year’s end, in line with a new state law that requires districts to award merit pay to teachers while making it easier for principals to fire them when they under-perform. The system relies on a complicated set of criteria that come down to four ratings summing up a teacher’s evaluation: Highly Effective, Effective, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory. Two unsatisfactory ratings in a row (over two years) essentially result in that teacher’s firing.

The teachers union isn’t opposed to the ratings. It’s opposed to the “unsatisfactory” rating kicking in the very first year, because the system is so complicated and the consequences so grave that first-year quirks with the new system shouldn’t count against a teacher’s career. The union is asking that teachers be spared the “unsatisfactory” verdict this year, and this year only, or what remains of it. They’re fine with it kicking in by next school year. Negotiators, including the district, had agreed to that arrangement last month. It was ratified by the union. But the school board, after getting counsel from the state Department of Education, wouldn’t accept it, citing a state law that ostensibly forbids such an arrangement.

After the board rejected the contract because it couldn’t merely excise the part about evaluations, the teachers union felt insulted and threatened to file an unfair labor practice. But it agreed to return to the negotiating table this afternoon to work out a new agreement.

It started poorly. The union wanted the negotiating session to be recorded, so that an official record exists, and future disagreements over what was—or wasn’t—said could more easily be resolved. Copeland refused. So while anyone outside the negotiating team could record the meeting, no one on either team could do so under the pretense of providing an official record.

Will Vargas made his points, with Katie Hansen listening on. The man with his back to the camera is Jerry Copeland, the district's negotiator. Click on the image for larger view. (FlaglerLive)

Will Vargas made his points, with Katie Hansen listening on. The man with his back to the camera is Jerry Copeland, the district's negotiator. Click on the image for larger view. (FlaglerLive)

After that disagreement, words flew between the two sides, with more accusations of bad faith, of feeling insulted and disrespected. “I’m not hard of hearing here Will,” Copeland told Vargas.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve been insulted a lot over the last couple of weeks,” Vargas fired back.

For all the wrangling—it’s what bargaining sessions are about, after all—there was what looked like some progress: an hour into the session the union appeared ready to concede that the fourth criteria (“unsatisfactory”) could be allowed in the first year if that teacher doesn’t complete a “Teacher Success Plan”—a plan worked out between teacher and principal to specify what improvements must be made. Copeland offered that compromise.

But the union had a condition of its own: it wanted the Teacher Success Plan’s criteria to be more objectively defined, so that its outcomes didn’t depend on the whims of principals, but on defined objectives. “If I’m on a success plan, each principal within the district has their own version of of failing,” Hansen said. It also wanted to ensure that a teacher has a chance to complete the success plan before the annual evaluation is completed.

“Now it seems we are negotiating what a success plan is, which is a whole new topic,” Copeland said.

It was. But it also appeared to be the district’s best opportunity to have its way without continuing to lose the teachers’ trust. At 7 p.m., Copeland and his team retreated to talk about the proposal among themselves, the third such break in today’s session.

The negotiating climate looked hopeful by then, and a resolution seemed imminent. At 6:53 p.m., the two sides had even exchanged the very first, faint joke of the session—by then dragging into its third hour—when Copeland asked what a certain type of printed bullet was called, Hansen described it as an “indented bullet,” and Chris Pryor, the Matanzas High School principal and a member of the district’s negotiating team, elicited laughter when he referred to the bullet as “a smaller caliber.” Even that joke, of course, was not free of irony.

The district’s negotiating team returned to the table at 7:31 p.m. But the mood had darkened again, with the district balking at the union’s qualifiers and the union returning to what Hansen called her “frustration” at the district reneging on a previous agreement–when Baker County, she said, agreed to that same exception, with Copeland negotiating that deal, too. Copeland said that wasn’t the case: the disputed wording was scratched out in Baker, he said. He then made a remarkable statement: that there was a “gentleman’s agreement” between him and the union, ensuring that there would be no “unsatisfactory” evaluations this year regardless. Vargas, however, confirmed through email and his phone that the Baker board had, in fact, ratified the contract language with the disputed exception in writing.

Just before 8, the union asked for another break. The two sides reconvened at 8:20 p.m. The union made yet another proposal: it would go along with the district’s condition, agreeing to the “unsatisfactory” rating staying in place, but only if a teacher did not attain a “majority” of the criteria set out in his or her improvement plan ahead of the final evaluation. A teacher would have a 90-day success plan, which works out to a probation period. (There are only about 10 teachers currently in the middle of a success plan.) The district took that proposal and went behind closed doors, re-emerging at 8:28 p.m.

By then, the air conditioning in the room had been turned off. Automatically.

And just before 9 p.m., the two sides reached agreement.

Here’s the wording of the Memorandum of Understanding both sides agreed to at 9:20 p.m.:

Memorandum of Understanding

FCEA Counter-Proposal – March 12, 2012

Come now the following parties: the School Board of Flagler County and the Flagler County Educators Association agree to the following stipulations:

  • No teacher in the district will receive less than “Needs Improvement” or “Developing” in the final rating of the summative instrument except and unless such rating is the direct result of failing to successfully complete a Teacher Success Plan during the first year (2011-2012 school year) of the Flagler County Teacher Evaluation System implementation.
  • “Failure to successfully complete” shall be determined by meeting all of the following criteria:
    • Teacher has been on Success Plan with support from administration for at least 45 work days prior to observation
    • Teacher has met less than a majority of the goals specified in the Success Plan at the time of the observation.
    • The expectation of the teacher on a Success Plan is to meet all of the goals specified in the Success Plan.  If the teacher fails to meet all of the goals of the Success Plan, he/she will be placed on a subsequent Success Plan.  Failure to meet the goals of the subsequent Success Plan will lead to the teacher receiving an “Unsatisfactory” on the evaluation and placement on a 90-day probation as per Florida Statute 1012.34.
    • The parties are mutually working on an appeals process to resolve data disputes regarding Value Added Model (VAM) scores.  Once the parties mutually agree to an official appeals process, the bargaining teams for both sides will reconvene and tentatively agree on the appeals process subject to ratification.
    • Pursuant to the agreement on the above items, all other tentative agreements in the 2011-2012 negotiations are hereby reinstated for teacher and School Board ratification.

Tentatively agreed to on _________________________________________


Katie Hansen, FCEA President


Will Vargas, Lighthouse Service Unit Executive Director


Denise Haymes, FCSB – Curriculum


Jerry Copeland, Chief Negotiator FCSB

Finally. Hansen and Copeland.

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21 Responses for “From “I’m Not a Dog” To Compromising Bullets as Teachers Union and District Negotiate”

  1. seaturtle says:

    It is truly unbelievable to me that a professional would whistle in such a rude manner. Teachers have been disrespected enough! This is yet another unfortunate and inflammatory incident and will in no way support progress in negotiations. I hope the union stands strong.

  2. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    so the union is upset because the School Board can no longer agree to something that conflicts with a state law? Sounds to me like the union’s beef is with the State legislature, not the school board. If the state law prohibits the school board from agreeing to that term, the contract would essentially be unenforceable on that provision. If the school board was really acting with bad faith, they would have gone ahead and ratified the contract, knowing this provision was unenforceable, but they didn’t, they were above board and upfront with the union, and for that they’re rewarded with this childish behavior, “Please don’t whistle, I’m not a dog”… how about , please don’t carry on 10 different conversations while the grownups at the table are trying to negotiate?

  3. Upset Parent says:

    Everyone in this county cares only about them selves or tries to cover crimes (Fischer)

    Look at what FCSD employee got arrested today. It was the Flagler Youth Center Assistant Director. No one seems to have noticed that. If you search his name you will even find a history of arrests.

  4. Tired HS Teacher says:

    I attended of tonight’s negotiations and I can tell you that in the more than 90 minutes I audited, the chief negotiator for the district WAS very rude! Additionally, although the room was more than filled to capacity and probably posed a clear fire hazard, the district did not make any move to put the meeting in a safer more comfortable location as logic would dictate. Why? To make the attendees feel even more unwelcome and uncomfortable so they wouldn’t stay to witness the circus?

    The irony of this situation is that their chief negotiator is the one who AGREED to the language, and if he was such professional, he would have already KNOWN it was against state law –if in fact it truly were. But the fact of the matter is, it isn’t, as he well knows, because he had already crafted a contract for Baker County, which contains the exact same stipulations, which the state Department of Education had NO PROBLEM agreeing to….and agreement that the Baker County School district, School Board and teachers already ratified! So it’s in accord with state law for Baker County, but NOT in accord with state law for Flagler? Is that what he and the Flagler School Board want us to believe?

    The sad part is, it is the taxpayers of Flagler County, including the teachers who both live and work here, who are paying this part-time negotiator a retainer of something like $1500 per MONTH for a few hours of work per month, and yet he can’t even do the job corrrectly! Were I the district, I’d find somebody who actually knows state laws and isn’t making it up as he goes along, and then trying to make excuses for why he didn’t get it right for the first time.

    The teachers bargained in good faith, and only presented a contract to teachers for ratification after the district negotiating team had APPROVED IT. Obviously, the district negotiators (who include veteran administrators and highly paid human resource and financial personnel) clearly believed the version they approved was in accord with state law. Otherwise, wihy would they present it to the School Board and embarrass themselves by presenting something illegal…. quite simply, because it’s NOT illegal. The precedent was already set by Baker County…..

  5. Jojo says:

    Why would anyone want to be a teacher today?

  6. not a union member says:

    I’m not a union member nor ever will be. Teaching is one of the most fortunate professions anyone could have. We get time off and the hours are great, but most importantly we get to wake up every morning knowing that we are going to make a difference in the life of a child. There are too many teachers though that don’t deserve to be wasting tax payers money by not doing their job. If some of the teachers were to have a regular job that wasn’t protected by so much red tape, they would have been fired a long time ago. Where else can you do a poor job and keep it? Believe me, the teachers that would get an “Unsatisfactory” deserve it. Those of us that come to school, provide the best learning environment for our students, take tons of work home with us and poor our heart and soul into our classroom and students are here for the right reasons. And if I were to get an “Unsatisfactory” rating once, I can bet you that I would do everything I could to improve so I wouldn’t get it again!

    • pcgurl says:

      “not a union member”: Well, aren’t you special! Your colleagues must LOVE working with you every day. Your superior attitude must make you a delight to be around at work. Incidentally, it concerns me that a teacher doesn’t appear to know the difference between POOR and POUR, or the basics of good grammar and syntax.

    • PalmCoast says:

      OH SO WELL SAID!!!! not a union member!!

      If a child does unsatisfactory for “1” year of schooling he is held back!! Teachers want to be able to teach hundreds of kids over a “3” year term (plus all the loop holes the union has in place for teachers which means they will be able to teach even longer under an unsatisfactory rating affecting more children) before they can be canned!! Doesn’t anyone of these teachers care about how the “unsatisfactory” teachers affect our children? How bout the teachers standing up and agreeing to get ride of these “unsatisfactory” teachers in an effort to promote a quality education for our children!!!

    • palmcoaster says:

      Just in case and for the record, I am not a union member, teacher, student or student parent. I am just a taxpayer sick and tired of disrespect for our ; women, workers and their unions, retirees the elderly, students and minorities exercised by these extreme conservative fascists.

    • Union supporter says:

      You will wish you were a part of the union when you don’t get a raise fo four year even though you are doing your best for the kids. Or when your students don’t make the amount of progress they should because the parents don’t help or care what the children do. Or when the district wants you to work harder and longer for less pay. The good hours you have are because of unions.

  7. Liana G says:

    The Union does not represent the students so don’t expect it to do things in the best interest of the students. I guess it is too much to expect a Teacher’s Union to weed its organization of those who have tarnished the image of the teaching profession. If we are to reinstate the teaching profession to its highly esteemed and respectful position, we need to rid the profession of those who undermine it.

    A very good friend of mine who is in the profession , was always a strong supporter of the students, very aware of what was going on their personal lives, and went above and beyond her responsibilities to make students feel cared for and worthy and her students reciprocated. This year she became the union rep for her school and her attitude has changed completely. Everytime we speak, I have spoken with her twice this weekend, she goes on and on about how horrible and lazy and stupid the kids are (I wonder why they are stupid and why their lack of motivation or laziness is their fault and not that of the teacher’s failure to motivate). She was never like that before.

    The union pits teachers against students, against parents, against the very tenets of education, yet it expects public sympathy for promoting a policy of providing job security and protection, thus, to quote my now 104 year old retired high school teacher and blogger, “[it has] attracted into the profession many who have no love for teaching, self-seekers, opportunists, who can never inspire or motivate their pupils.”

  8. NortonSmitty says:

    You may not be a Union Member, but a dollar to a doughnut says you are lying. You could never be a teacher today and write the toadying bullshit in the post above. “Fess up! Forget about the Pollyanna crap spouting ideals that are sadly not relevant to the job today, we know you are not, never were and could never be a Teacher of any kind and write ‘”poor” your heart out’. You probably never even graduated from a school being that illiterate, let alone taught in one.

    You are just another half-educated right-wing troll out to spout opinions that you heard on Fox and Friends.

    I put you in the same category as the sad nobodies that tell you about how they were Marines or in Viet Nam when you know from the start they have never been anywhere nor done anything. And as sad as it is, it still pisses me off to no end to see some loser taking credit and glory that the never did and never could earn. Teaching or otherwise.

  9. Willy says:

    Teachers are highly under paid, and under appreciated. I have two daughters in Flagler county schools. Their teachers work very hard at keeping me informed of their performance and behavior. I live in Palm Coast and I pay more in a year for basic cable than I do for property tax. If I was asked to pay a little more to maintain this quality education for my children I would be all for it…

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      Obviously you don’t put your money where your mouth, or in this case keyboard, is. You can pay more for “quality” education anytime you want… there are any number of private schools around, you can write a check to the school board, you can hire a private tutor, but as is usually the case, you most likely don’t. Because it’s a lot easier to say you’re willing to pay more, than to actually, pay more.

  10. JGA says:

    It takes a village to raise and teach a child, except in Flagler County Schools. Seems like non of the villagers trust each other here!!! I would rate both sides in this saga as “needs inprovement”!

  11. Shameful says:

    Hmmmm, sounds like the Board is truly attempting to work with the union but the union looks like they are trying to put on a show! 7 district folks with 40 plus teachers on the other side? Doesn’t sound like, look like or feel like the union is bargaining in good faith, appears to be bullying to me. Look up the law, you can’t agree to something that is in conflict with the law. Period! If any of those teachers in Baker or any other county grieve their evaluation they will loose. It’s a line that’s been sold to their membership to make them feel good. It’s BS. Check out the law for yourself. The union can’t split hair about tools vs. summative language, a violation is a violation. As an educator, tax payer and mom all the nonsense and show boating needs to stop. It benefits no one. Enough! You are freaking your teachers out!

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Shame on this school board! They need all to be out in the next election. A worthless negotiator that utilizes a whistle to address our teachers attention in an intentionally picked, uncomfortable crowded room, does not deserve to be in that position. First of all because lacks respect! Who picked this old geezer …Fischer? and where did they pick it from some KKK gathering convention, because he just looks like one of them? Who is this guy to get $1,500 or more a month for a nothing work? Is he one of those accommodate local elite paid for some beaurocratic invented job not done? I refuse my taxes to be used and paying this dude Limbaugh style. Out with him.

  13. Rocco (The more famous Rocco with two c's) says:

    In the end, we all have the same goal (Raise Student Achievement). I hope things work out.

  14. AppreciateTeachers says:

    As a former student who survived through 13 years in the FCSD, I can honestly say that the teachers of Flagler County are not only some of the finest in terms of teaching aptitude but honestly care for their students as well. I graduated out of the Flagler education system 7 years ago and I am still in contact with teachers from nearly every year of my schooling career. The audacity of those who say that teachers don’t have their student’s best interest in mind is absurd! Why else would they subject themselves to less than optimum working conditions, classrooms that are too small to house classes that are too large, yearly paychecks that are often times less than the starting pay of recent college graduates, the absence of salary raises over a span of multiple years, a state government that holds them to unattainable standards, and the expectation that every student should makes a predetermined “year’s worth of progress” regardless of the individual’s academic level upon entering that school year? Moreover, why would anyone want to perform well when the board, the one that is supposed to make best-interest decisions for BOTH students and teachers, cannot be trusted nor honorable in their treatment of their educators? It’s easy for those board members, who’s pockets are deeply padded with six-figure incomes and yearly bonuses, to chastise and fail to compromise with the inferior teachers who often have to work two jobs during the school year as well as during the summer break just to scrape by. Those teachers don’t have any backing from their government, from their state, from their district, and, from how it appears, little from the community either. How can an educator be expected to be a babysitter, a counselor, a mediator, an advocate, a shoe-tying lunchbox-finding paper-grading nose-wiping test-making role model when the loudest voice in the back of their head is worrying about whether or not their son or daughter will be able to go to college or if they will be able to make mortgage payments? Doesn’t sound like a reality? Think again. If those students don’t make the correct score or the correct amount of progress on that one test or in that one year period, regardless of their background or economic status, that teacher’s pay is directly correlated with those student’s performance. And how can those same teachers be expected to get those students to that level of success when they are given very little resources to begin with, often times having to pull from their own meager funds to be able to adequately instruct their pupils?

    The board has a lack of respect for the teachers, evident in the less than adequate size of the chosen bargaining room, the lack of air-conditioning after normal hours, the choice to hide behind the silence of a declined meeting recording, and insulting comments leading up to this session. Not to mention Copeland’s unprofessional summoning of another human being as if they were the family pet. I commend the author of this article for actively pursuing and properly portraying a little seen – or heard – facet of Flagler Country’s less than stellar education system.

    One may ask how I know all of this or why I care as I am a 20-something that doesn’t even live there anymore. Just so happens that my mother has been a teacher in the school system for quite a long time and my childhood best friend is a new teacher in the system as well. I care about the place where I grew up and, all politics aside, the kids MUST ALWAYS come first!

  15. Anonymous says:

    johnny taxpayer…

    Your missing the point. If I could afford private schooling for my children and if it was better for them I would do it.
    The point I was trying to make is there’s almost no incentive to become a teacher in this day and age. I am a public servant without a college education and bring home a good deal more than a starting teacher.
    It’s just not about pay either.. School supplies, shorten school days, more teacher work days to make up the difference. Come on?
    All I am saying is a higher tax for our schools is the only tax I can understand raising. We all should pitch in a little more. It’s cheap to live in Flagler County compared to other areas of the state.

  16. PalmCoast says:

    Correct me if I am wrong!
    But from the union contract I have read, each year a teacher teaches they go up by year on the pay scale per the union contract giving the teacher a pay raise each year to the next level on the pay scale. I believe the discussions in dispute is over “merit raises” which are in relation to evaluations. As a side note which can also be found by reading the union contract teachers make “several” bonuses per school year for ex: being a part of the year book, or involved in clubs (many other activities that are done within the school day or right after the release of the school day and not an every day requirement) Also per the union contract a Principal must give written notice to a teacher with a minimum of 24 hours notice before coming into a teachers classroom for formal evaluation. Odd that a teacher must be given prior notice to be evaluated. I don’t believe any other profession is given written notice prior to evaluations. Doesn’t seem like a true reflection if the teacher is aware of being evaluated. Again per union contract: a teacher may only physically teach students a “maximum” of “25” hours per week!! I want my tax dollar going for quality teachers!! I want teachers to be of the mind set as that of “not a union member”!!
    PS even FlaglerLive has typographical errors now and then (as many of also do here with posting) HUM!! girl or gurl!! HUM again!! Students in the district that have a family member as a teacher, well I can bet that child did get a “quality education” and placed with quality teachers!! I know for a fact that a teachers child gets “Terrific Kid” every time it is awarded!! WHY are teachers so afraid of being evaluated for the job they do? If a teacher is supplying a “quality” education for our children they should be rewarded with a merit raise! On the other hand if a teacher is not producing a “quality” education for our students why would we as taxpayers be expected to pay for something we have not received?

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