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Volusia teachers union opposes uniforms, demands pay raises

'It almost sounds like you don't trust us,' union official says

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – The Volusia United Educators is fighting to keep teachers in schools by negotiating what the Volusia County School Board has so far proposed.

One controversial item is giving teachers a mandatory dress code to follow, which would include a Polo shirt in their school colors.

Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia United Educators, said forcing teachers to wear a uniform is degrading.

"When you put something like this out there, it almost sounds like you don't trust us," Spar said.  "You don't trust the teachers and the work that they do. And to us, it's a slap in the face."

Spar also disagreed with the school board wanting to add more instructional and planning time for elementary school teachers, but not extra pay, when they're already overworked.

"They are overwhelmed, they're constantly in meetings, constantly in trainings and teachers are saying, 'enough.' We came to the table to do some serious conversations around that, and instead, our district and what they propose is actually adding to the workday. It's adding more requirements, to teachers, adding more work to their plate and we can't keep up on what we're doing now," he said.

The school board is also proposing a 1 percent raise and $800 bonus. Spar counterproposed the offer with a 2.5 percent raise and no bonus and a promise to keep dental insurance and overall health insurance costs low.

"We know money is tight. Clearly, the Florida Legislature is to blame for that. They have underfunded our schools for years now. But we also know that our district can reprioritize what they're doing,"  Spar said.

While the school board cannot publicly discuss negotiations, the superintendent released the following statement.

“The legislature is not giving school boards the funds to provide raises employees deserve,” stated Superintendent James T. Russell.  “Is it enough? No, but we are doing the best with what we have and will continue to make employee pay a priority when additional funds are given to us by Tallahassee.”

Volusia County Schools previously released a statement about the negotiations.

"The district’s negotiating team presented its proposals to the union, which included:

  • Increased instructional time for elementary students and planning time for elementary teachers.  Volusia elementary students are provided less instructional time than area students.  Elementary students in Seminole and Flagler are provided 20 minutes more instructional time each day.  The district proposes expanding elementary teacher planning time from 30 to 45 minutes each day while increasing instructional time by 20 minutes each day.  This change will allow more time for students to attend special area classes, such as art and music, while also helping to meet the new state mandate for 20 minutes of recess each day.  The work day would then match that of current Volusia middle and high school teachers.  
  • Replacing Early Release Wednesdays.  Currently students are dismissed one hour early on most Wednesdays to afford time for teachers planning and preparation time.  Some of those Wednesdays are used for training.  Rather than disrupt family and teacher schedules each week, the district proposes that this time be bundled into full days.  By restoring the additional one hour of instruction each week, it would permit a reduced school year.  
  • More flexibility to teachers and principals.  The contract makes it difficult for school faculties and principals to enjoy flexibility from some requirements.  Currently, a flexibility requires approval of 80 percent of a school’s faculty regardless of whether they participate in the vote.  The district proposed that be changed to a simple majority of teachers participating in the vote.
  •  Professional attire.  The district proposes minimal standards for professional attire. 
  •  Teacher attendance incentive.  The district proposes the establishment of a teacher incentive program to increase teacher attendance to be funded by savings from less reliance on substitute teachers.
  •  Increased pay.  The district proposed a bonus of $800 plus a 1 percent raise.  This is beyond the 0.01 percent increase from the Legislature in the base student allocation.  This is higher than the 0.86 percent raise negotiated by Seminole County Schools for the upcoming school year.  
  • School districts are not left with many options this year when it comes to employee pay.  The legislature provided a meager 45 cents extra per student - or 0.01% - to the district’s base student allocation.  This amount remains less than what Volusia received a decade ago after inflation.  School districts around the state are also scrambling to meet a mandate for armed personnel in each school when the legislature did not fully fund it.  State funding for the mandate was at least $2 million short of the actual cost.

"The legislature is not giving school boards the funds to provide raises employees deserve,” stated Superintendent James T. Russell.  “Is it enough?  No.  But we are doing the best with what we have and will continue to make employee pay a priority when additional funds are given to us by Tallahassee.

"The union presented a series of proposals and initially proposed 14 percent raise over a three-year period. The last offer by the union was a 12 percent raise over that period.  

"The next session is scheduled for May 1. The district hopes that a settlement can be reached as soon as possible."

 


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