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Santa Rosa Teachers Still Without A Contract

Photo via Flickr//cybrarian77

Teachers in Santa Rosa County have been working without a contract this school years as negotiations continue. County School Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick says that while it's not unusual to go into a school year without a new contract for the teachers, this year's negotiations are going longer than everyone would like. He says they have disagreement over the implementation of a performance pay schedule  that's mandated by the state of Florida that is ready this year. He also says there concerns over certain language in the contract, but feels they are making progress and the two sides continue to meet.

The language Wyrosdick is talking about concerns the imposition of furlough days on teachers if a measure of the district's financial health drops below a certain level. This would cut four days of pay from the teachers if the measure was triggered. Wyrosdick says he feels this language must be in the contract to give the district flexibility in the event of another financial crisis like the recent recession. He feels having teachers get a reduction in pay is a better option than district-wide layoffs.

As you might expect, there is another side to this argument. Rhonda Chavers is President and chief Negotiator of Santa Rosa Professional Educators. She says the language is a problem because the imposition of the furlough days would be based on a projected fund balance, what she calls "a guess". She says they have historical data that shows the district's projections in September "are way off...millions of dollars off by the next year". She also says it's doubtful her teachers would ratify a contract that would involve a pay reduction based on projections.

The numbers involved in the negotiations are the Financial Condition Ratio, which is the number used to measure the district's financial health and the district's Fund Balance, which is simply the money left over after everything has been budgeted. You would think that numbers are numbers and there would be no disagreement on that. You would be wrong. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick says that at the end of each fiscal tear, the district is required to take back every dime from every account from every school or center. This money is then counted and the money is "immediately send it back to schools where it belongs. That figure approaches $17 million." But once the money is sent back to the schools, the fund balance is around $10.8 million. Wyrosdick says the larger number is only in that large pot for about a 30 second window before it is immediately sent back to the schools.

The union's Rhonda Chavers does not agree. She says the $17 million figure is the number reported to the Auditor General and the Florida Department of Education. She also says the $17 million total is what's used by the district to measure their credit-worthiness and their Standard and Poors rating.

There are other issues to be hammered out as well such as merit raises for teachers. Negotiations have been going on for a while and the two sides continue to meet. Chavers says the union has requested federal mediation on the issues. She says having a federal mediator come in is a free service to collective bargaining states, however if the district declares an impasse on the furlough day issue, then both the district and the union would have to split the cost of  having a special magistrate come in.

The two sides were scheduled to meet again on Wednesday afternoon, January 28.