Teachers, union take offense to district’s ‘raise,’ hours cut

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The Indian River County School Board heard from a handful of upset teachers, their supporters and their union who took issue with a press release the district sent out late Friday.

The press release stated, in part, that the teachers had refused to work shorter days – a measure the district equated to a pay raise because pay would not be cut to reflect the 15-minute cut.

“It’s ludicrous,” Vero Beach High School teacher Howard White said of likening the frozen pay with shorter hours to a raise.

He argued that teaching is a salary position and that many teachers work far more hours than they are contracted for.

“It’s a cheap shot,” White added, designed to make the teachers look bad.

White cautioned the board that if they begin to treat teachers as hourly employees, the teachers might start to work like they’re hourly and not put in the real amount of time needed.

Nicole Subletle, the fiancée of a Vero Beach High School teacher who could not attend the meeting because he was working late with students in the Advanced Placement program, told the School Board that teachers routinely work extra to help their students and to prepare for their classes.

“I think it’s an insult,” she said of cutting hours and calling it a raise. Subletle added that she believes it was irresponsible for the school district to issue a press release saying that the teachers are rejecting a pay raise.

“You should be just as outraged as I am,” said Luke Flynt to the board members over  Superintendent Dr. Harry LaCava’s press release. He demanded the board have Dr. LaCava issue a retraction.

Flynt added that the release portrays teachers as being out for money.

Beth Weatherstone, president of Indian River County Education Association, the teachers’ union, brought up concerns about the budget town hall meetings and the public input.

She told the school board that when she asked for the compiled list of budget cutting ideas, she was told no such list exists. Weatherstone questioned how the board could make budget decisions if no list has been made – or if the school district staff would cull the list before presenting it.

She asked how the board could be sure that the staff would not cut items from the list that would negatively impact the staff or the district’s administration.

Members of the School Board were cautioned against getting involved in a debate over the teachers’ contracts.

Board Attorney Usher “Larry” Brown urged the board to “resist the temptation” to engage in the discussion because it could disqualify them later from deciding the district-union contract negotiation impasse.

As for the press release, Brown told the board that it is not fair to think that the School Board issued the statement or that it reflects the board’s opinion.

“Our hands are so tied,” Board Chairwoman Karen Disney-Brombach told the audience, adding that she appreciated them coming before the board to speak their piece.

“We are bound by the laws,” she said, which if they break could jeopardize the board.

After the school district’s press release was issued, the Indian River County Education Association released its own, stating, in part, that the district rejected the union’s offer to forgo step raises of 2 percent – issued for each year of employment with the district.

The union’s statement also takes issue with the district’s “3.2 percent pay raise,” saying “teachers would still complete, outside of the workday, the ever increasing workload. IRCEA estimates this increase would place the average hourly rate of pay of Indian River teachers slightly below that of most of the surrounding districts.”

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