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.
Agreements the Board Ratified:
“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.”
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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.”