School board, union clash on teacher pay

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By Jenna McKenna

Levy County Education Association President Cindy Roach says a recent change to school board policy, designed to save the district money, could end up costing more than it saves.

In Tuesday’s meeting of the Levy County School Board, the board held a public hearing on three proposed changes to board policy.

The first, pertaining to a plan to return to weighted GPAs in order to more fairly determine valedictorians and salutatorians, passed with minimal comment.

The meat of the session hung on two related pieces of language in the chapter on school administration: item 6.06, “Years of Service Defined for Administrative and Instructional Personnel” and item 6.36, “Employee Experience for Salary Purposes.” In a session earlier this summer, the board voted to approve language that, in the first case, allows the board to decline to credit prospective teachers for prior years’ experience when the teacher is already receiving a retirement benefit for those years. In the second case, revised language would allow prospective teachers to waive teaching experience for salary purposes.

In Tuesday’s public hearing, the board voted unanimously to adopt the new language. In presenting the language, Superintendent Bob Hastings informed the board the purpose was to increase the district’s options concerning retired teachers re-entering the work force, as well as increasing these teachers’ options with regard to the salary they could accept.

He advised that the language was adopted directly from Florida Statutes 1012.01 and 1012.33, passed in the most recent legislative session, and said the change could allow the district to rehire certain teachers whose salary would have been out of range for the district under the current experience for salary policy.

Teacher Marcia Baughn said she disagreed with the use of the word “voluntary” in the option to waive experience for salary. “What does that mean, ‘voluntary?’” she asked. “Does that mean (you’re telling prospective teachers) ‘you can have this job if you waive your years of experience?’ Even if you’re the most qualified person for the job? I have a problem with this language.”

“You have a problem with state statute, then,” said Board Chairman Frank Etheridge, the Williston member. “Where does the individual’s right come in, if they want to work at the entry level wage after retiring from working 35 years?” Hastings said prior to adusting the policy, the district was hamstrung by the requirement that highly experienced retired teachers returning to the work force be paid for all their years of experience.

He said if teachers wanted to return to work in the district, they should be allowed to accept the entry wage. Roach responded that the statute does give districts the right to negotiate that option, but at the table with the teachers’ union in the collective bargaining agreement, not unilaterally in board policy. “A prospective teacher can agree to work for any salary, or even for free, before they are hired,” she said.

“Once they are hired, they are bound by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement (which has already determined the terms under which teachers are paid).” Roach said the Florida Education Association, of which LCEA is a member, is already engaged in battles with other districts in Florida over the issue.

“We’re going to join with our state affiliate and go to our legal department,” she said. “Even state law does not supersede the collective bargaining agreement. “If you look at the language (in the statute), it says you can negotiate this at the bargaining table. “There is a big difference between allowing this change and mandating it,” Roach said.