Defiant teachers union votes down contract after school board overrules court decision

A defiant teachers union overwhelmingly voted against ratifying a 2018-19 contract with the Indian River County School District.

The 765 to 65 vote by the Indian River Education Association comes two weeks after a controversial decision by the school board to overrule a magistrate’s recommendation in favor of the union on two key issues – merit pay raises and health insurance premiums.

“While no one is pleased that the contract was not ratified, I am proud that the teachers of Indian River County have made their voices heard, loud-and-clear,” said union president Liz Cannon. “Teachers are feeling undervalued and disregarded.”

The board’s decision on merit pay raises and health insurance premiums superseding the court decision came at the end of a long, frustrating period of stalled contract negotiations.

Negotiations for the 2018-19 contract – a school year now in the past – had reached an impasse after months of negotiations when the teachers union and school district decided to argue their cases in front of Ninth Circuit Court Judge Tom Young.

Young sided with the union on the insurance and pay performance issues but budgetary concerns caused Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley to appeal Young’s decision to the School Board, which had the power to disregard it.

In October, the board overruled the court recommendation and supported the district’s version of the contract instead, prompting hundreds of angry teachers to walk out of the meeting while board members were still talking and trying to reassure teachers that their work was appreciated.

For weeks, teachers have posted angry comments on the union’s Facebook page, with many teachers threatening a board recall, or a concerted effort to make sure board members are not re-elected.

Prior to the board’s decision to overturn Young’s two recommendations, teachers support the proposed contract. During a union meeting they applauded the judge’s recommendations and expressed a desire to approve the contract. So it was a painful blow when Young’s decision was overturned.

Cannon said she isn’t surprised by the teachers’ change of heart about the modified contract. She said the union made several concessions on other issues in order to try to get what they wanted on the disputed issues.

Cannon vowed there will be fewer concessions made during the 2019-20 negotiations.

“The next bargain will be the test of whether the district will fully cooperate with the union and develop a contract that retains and recruits teachers to Indian River County,” Cannon said. “The egregious practice of delaying bargaining and using outside attorneys must stop so that teachers can trust that their school board has the best interests of all students and staff at heart.”

The district’s representatives cancelled numerous negotiation sessions during the 2018-19 school year.

The board told teachers they voted in favor of the district’s contract offer for merit raises and insurance premiums because they wanted to be “fiscally responsible.”

The board has since come under fire for voting to spend thousands of dollars to attend a “Board Bootcamp” in Tampa Bay in December and to send Moxley to an educational conference in Oklahoma for a week.

Moxley could not be reached for comment on the teachers actions.

Ben Osypian, assistant superintendent of human resources & school administration and Michelle Olk, director of employee and labor relations, who represented the district during contract negotiations did not respond to requests for comment.

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