VIERA, Fla. - A months-long dispute between the Brevard School District and its teachers' union will go before a special magistrate in hopes of determining raises for teachers, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.
The Brevard Federation of Teachers and school district negotiating teams will present their cases Tuesday to a magistrate at the school board's headquarters in Viera. The union and district have been at impasse over salaries since December.
The latest offer from the district — the "best and final" offer, according to Chief Financial Officer Pennie Zuecher — was $770 for teachers rated "highly effective" on their annual evaluations, $540 for teachers rated "effective" and a one-time $1,000 bonus for all teachers.
The union has asked for $2,300 for highly effective teachers and $1,725 for effective teachers.
Unable to reach an agreement through routine negotiations, a special magistrate is getting involved, and after hearing both sides, will make a non-binding recommendation to the school board.
It will be a long process. Union President Anthony Colucci doesn't expect to resolve the issue until June, if a resolution is reached at all. It's possible that the school board could decide not to take the magistrate's recommendation.
Colucci says he is confident the magistrate will rule in the union's favor.
"Nearly every other district that I know of has given at least 2 percent raises. They (the Brevard school district) are still stuck at 1.6 percent," Colucci said. "You can't just keep saying, 'We don't have the money.' How did everyone else manage to do it?"
School Board Chair Tina Descovich said she's not sure what will come of the hearing, but said she would be surprised if the magistrate directed the district to increase its offer for raises.
"I would be surprised if the magistrate says we need to come up with more funds, but if that is the recommendation, I think we need to take that seriously," she said.
Descovich said the district's financial team has explored "every nook and cranny" of the budget to offer teachers as much as possible.
Here's what you need to know about the hearing:
What does a magistrate hearing entail?
At 9 a.m., the teachers' union and district negotiating teams will make their cases and present supporting documents. The district will lay out its financial situation.
The union will be represented by an official from the Florida Education Association.
The district has hired outside counsel from Allen, Norton, and Blue, which has offices in Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee and Tampa. Using the firm's services has already cost the district $9,192.
Speakers will likely include teachers, union leaders, the district's CFO and human resources employees.
Some magistrate hearings are brief, while others run for several hours.
Colucci has previously said his team intends to show the magistrate where in the district's budget there is additional funds that could cover the cost of raises. The district has maintained that it cannot afford to award teachers more than it has already offered, and has blamed Tallahassee for additional mandates that quickly sucked up money.
Who is the magistrate?
Tom Young, a circuit judge in Orange County, was chosen as the magistrate. He has worked in Florida since 2003 and previously worked in Kansas.
What happens after the hearing?
Young will make a recommendation to the Brevard School Board within 15 days regarding what raise it should award teachers.
The union and school board will have 20 days to accept or reject the magistrate's recommendation.
How does the magistrate form his recommendation?
By Florida law, Young will have to take into consideration salaries of public employees in the county in similar professions; salaries of teachers in other Florida counties of comparable size; availability of funds; and the welfare of the public.
Young will likely take into consideration that the school district does not bring in money for its operating budget through additional millage, like other Florida counties. The school board decided last year not to put a millage increase on the ballot. The current half-cent sales tax is for capital expenses only.
Does the school board have to accept Young's recommendation?
Assistant superintendent Matt Reed told News 6, "If rejected by either party, the school board must hold a 'special impasse meeting' (publicly noticed with provision for public speakers). By the conclusion of this meeting, the school board must vote to present a contract settlement to union members for ratification."
"If union membership does not ratify board proposal, then the school board would vote to 'impose' the contract issue (salary enhancement only) that went to impasse, which excluded the already 'tentatively agreed' contract work conditions language."
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