Teacher negotiations

Editors note: This is the ninth part of ongoing coverage regarding Brevard County school teachers and their fight for better pay and classroom conditions.

BREVARD COUNTY ― During the Aug. 13 Brevard County school board meeting, Anthony Colucci, president of Brevard Federation of Teachers, reported that of the 4,048 teachers who voted on the 2018-19 Collective Bargaining Agreement, only 162 were in favor of the contract. 3,886 voted against it.

“Our teachers voted ‘no’ on this contract because it was a vote of ‘yes’ for their dignity,” Mr. Colucci said.

The vote followed a new plan for both Brevard Public Schools (BPS) and the teachers union to cooperate with each other after a contentious past year of salary negotiations.

Even though teachers were decidedly opposed to the districts contact, their vote was largely symbolic.

"We weren't surprised that teachers rejected the contract," said Matt Reed, assistant superintendent/Government & Community Relations for BPS. "The thing that we're focusing on now is that this is the end of the past year's process. We're already working together in work groups to identify funds and come up with a plan for teacher compensation that's more cooperative, and avoid the kind of conflict we had this year."

Mr. Colucci said that the union had already met to discuss wage compression issues and the $1.5M in recurring attrition that was reportedly miscalculated by the district as non-recurring. This additional discovery doubles the original estimation.

"We know that we have a lot of work to do to restore trust and morale among the teachers," Mr. Reed said. "We hope that by being transparent and, having already identified some of the funding to bring to the table for next year's raises, it's a nice head start."

The error was discovered by a third-party after review on Aug. 1 that, according to a BPS release was ""inadvertently excluded various retirees from the calculations [it] originally presented".

The additional funds are said to go towards teacher salaries in the next year's contract to help offset both state and national decline in teacher pay.

"The superintendent did listen to the BFT leadership about sources of funding and where they thought there were recurring funds where we didn't think so," Mr. Reed said. "We continued to go back and reexamine the budget, and in this case we found that our assumptions that we had used to calculate saving for retirement had been too conservative."

Mr. Reed said that the $1.5M came from all types of employee retirements that could be used for teacher pay negotiations.

"The most important thing for us is we're waiting for their numbers to come in from the budget from last year is this fund balance bigger or smaller," Mr. Colucci said. "It's so we can actually see where these numbers landed so we can go in there and see what we can actually afford to do."

Mr. Colucci stated that the ongoing rallies and vocal protests from teachers, students and supporters were essential to advocating for better salary talks.

"I think right now for our teachers, the decision that was made to not follow the magistrates recommendation was a disgrace and sad for our community," said Natalie Twine, a parent of two BPS students.

Mrs. Twine said that her son, a junior at Merritt Island High School, was taught by a substitute teacher for three months in his AP Biology class. According to her son, the class curriculum wasn't followed, leaving students to learn activities like origami.

She felt the lack of motivation by substitutes, vacant teaching positions and low pay were impacting her children's education.

"If the school board thinks that Brevard schools is going to maintain an A rating, they're not going to do it with fleeing teachers." Mrs. Twine said.

Teacher pay negotiations for the 2019-20 school year will take place in early September.

"We hope that was seen as a good-will gesture to move ahead," Mr. Reed said. "I think everyone is hoping for a different story this year."

For more information, call 321-633-1000 or visit www.brevardschools.org

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