It may be summertime, but please forgive many professional educators employed by the School District of Palm Beach County if they feel like their first week of break was anything but joyful.
That’s the takeaway from a contract negotiation between the district and the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association (CTA), which has left a sour taste in the mouths of many teachers.
The tentative agreement, reached Tuesday, June 2, offers a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers, retroactive to March 2. The increase will be between $780 and $1,480 for the 2015-16 school year. However, since the negotiated increase does not revert back to the start of the current fiscal year, it’s more like a 0.67 percent increase for 2014-15. And this, among other factors, has annoyed many of the educators whom the CTA represents at the negotiating table.
Adding to the frustration is that the actual ratification vote, slated for Tuesday, June 16, will not take place while classes are in session. And because it is a vote to be conducted “in person” — that is, teachers must show up at one of six polling sites across the district — there are a number of potential voters who are being disenfranchised, as they will be out of town on any number of personal or professional summer assignments. The timing of this vote, some teachers believe, is to reduce the number of votes that can be cast against the proposal from teachers angry at what was finalized at the table.
This has left a number of teachers frustrated with both parties — the school district and the CTA — for several reasons. They look at members of the Palm Beach County School Board, who pledged during their campaigns for office to respect their employees, then look at the proposed raise as a slap in the face; after all, the national average for teacher raises is 3 percent.
They look at a letter sent out by the district bargaining team on May 29, which laid out the district’s views on negotiations — that the CTA’s proposal favored higher raises for more experienced teachers, while the district proposed across-the-board raises — as a district-sponsored measure to (effectively) drive a wedge between the CTA and the teachers. According to the information sent, the proposal represented a $14 million package with nearly $5 million allocated for 2014-15 and another $9 million for 2015-16. The CTA initially rejected the proposal, but it ended up being the final settlement, thus leading to views that the CTA folded.
The recent history of the CTA is also not comforting. The union bargained away guaranteed salary step increases based on years of experience several years ago, and the infighting that took place during the most recent CTA officer elections led to the Florida Teachers Association temporarily taking control of the CTA due to legal questions and challenges during the election process.
Meanwhile, state laws prohibit teachers from striking, and enforce a “right-to-work” environment, which prohibits the CTA from having much pull in the grand scheme of things when it comes to negotiations. Even though the current situation is district-specific, the long reach of Tallahassee is ever present.
So here’s where many teachers are in today’s world: in general, teachers distrust the salary process, the district they work for, the bargaining unit they rely on for representation, and the state, which oversees all things pertaining to public education. Despite pro-teacher rhetoric from all sides, is this really a pro-teacher environment?