Collier teacher contract negotiations: New proposals on the table, still no deal

— Tuesday is the last day of the contract between the Collier County School District administration and its teachers.

As they wrangle over a new contract, the administration and the teachers have agreed to honor the current agreement.

Monday, both sides attempted to take big steps to solve the biggest hurdle — that over salaries.

The Collier County Education Association, which is the union that represents the teachers in contract negotiations, began the discussion. Their proposal was that eligible employees would receive a step increase and those at the top of the scale would receive a 1 percent salary increase. Step increases are increases in pay given based on years of experience.

The proposal is similar to the one the union has presented in the past, but this proposal had a caveat: teachers are willing to forfeit $450 in additional insurance coverage, called flex care money, if the district is not able to fund the raises.

Flex care benefits can be used additional insurance coverage, including dental or disability insurance, or more life insurance.

“If your fears come true, we are willing to give up flex care,” said Cal Boggess, president and chief negotiator for the teachers’ union. “This is all in defense of the step. You paint the picture that the state of Florida could abandon us. If that happens, the superintendent will declare a state of emergency and we will return to the table anyway.”

But district administrators said they saw holes. Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute, who is the chief negotiator for the administration, said if the district had to take away flex care benefits for the teachers, it would not cover the amount of money they would have to spend to pay the step.

“One year, you are looking at double what we pay in flex care and two years (of steps), you are looking at quadruple,” she said. “You have rejected our health insurance proposal, but flex care would help with that.”

Jonathan Tuttle, executive director of the teachers’ union, said the flex care was half the money the union needed and was a place to start negotiating.

“We’re not walking away from steps,” Boggess said. “We’re prepared to go all the way.”

But it seems the district anticipated that. LaBute had also brought a proposal of her own and it includes a provision for a step increase for teachers.

The district’s proposal is a three-year agreement on salary and benefits. In the 2009-10 school year, all employees who are eligible for the step would receive it and those at the top would receive a 1 percent increase. In addition, there will be no health insurance costs to qualified employees — those who work more than 28.125 hours a week.

In 2010-11, salaries will be determined by the following based on comparison to 2009-10 funding:

■ If per-pupil funding decreases, employees will be moved to the step they were on or would have been on in the 2008-09 school year; or

■ If per-pupil funding remains the same or increases less than 2 percent, employees will remain on the same step as in the 2009-10 school year; or

■ If per pupil funding increase between 2 percent and less than 3 percent, employees will advance one step from 2009-10; or

■ If per pupil funding increases 3 percent or more, employees will advance one step from 2009-10 and management and the union will return to the bargaining table to negotiate whether or not there will be an increase to the salary schedule and how much that increase will be.

In addition, during the 2010-11 school year, employees will be asked to pay 3.65 percent of their health insurance premiums for the second semester of the school year and employees who are not smoke or tobacco free will pay an additional 10 percent on top of their health care premiums.

In 2011-12, the salary determination follows the same matrix as 2010-11, but is based on 2010-11 funds, and employees will be asked to pay 7.3 percent of their health-care premiums, unless they smoke or use tobacco products, in which case they will be asked to pay an additional 20 percent.

The district also added a caveat that if the full implementation of the class size reduction amendment, which was passed by Florida voters in 2002 and restricts the number of students in the classroom for core classes, such as English and math, is mandated by the state, employees will be moved back one step for the first year of implementation.

“At our last meeting, you asked us to be specific,” LaBute said. “This gives us the insurance we need.”

LaBute added that employees can choose to opt out of the district’s insurance program if they choose.

Boggess said the union had a lot to think about. Both sides agreed to adjourn negotiations for the evening and resume them again at 1 p.m. July 22 in the teachers’ union office, 6710 Lone Oak Blvd.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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