Magistrate sides with teachers on salary demands

After a long stalemate in negotiations, punctuated by teacher protests, a magistrate has ruled that Brevard Public Schools should reach into reserve funds and meet the salary demands put forth by the Brevard Federation of Teachers.

The decision, while not binding, supports BFT’s proposal that teachers should get a pay raise of up to $2,300 for the current school year. “This is vindication,” BFT president Anthony Colucci said. “It supports what our teachers have been saying for a long time – we’re grossly underpaid and the district must do better.”

The district, by comparison, had offered raises up to $770 per teacher. Both district officials and School Board members have also repeatedly said that money should not be taken from reserve funds to pay teachers.

The district and the union agreed to meet with the magistrate after months of bitter wrangling over teacher pay. It’s a scenario that seems to play out every year, but with greater animosity each time. It’s not clear whether the magistrate’s recommendation will change that.

“We agree with the magistrate and teachers’ union that our professional educators deserve competitive pay,” Brevard Schools Superintendent Mark Mullins said in a statement released by the district. “We still believe, given our current funding situation, that our position provided the best balance of pay increases and fiscal responsibility. Paying recurring raises with non-recurring dollars is not sustainable. However, we will carefully review the magistrate’s recommendation while deciding the district’s next step.”

Nicki Hensley, a spokesperson for the district, added in an email that “we will not be sharing anything further at this time, until we’ve had time to more carefully review the decision.” The next regular meeting of the School Board is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

School Board member Matt Susin said the magistrate’s recommendation “changes the outcome of what’s happening” and is an indication that the board should rethink the latest offer to teachers. He stopped short of saying how much more teachers should be paid or whether the money should come from reserves.

“I think there definitely needs to be a change in our situation,” Susin said. “It’s just how.”

Under the rules of the mediation process, the district has 20 days to reject the plan. If that happens, the School Board must hold a special impasse meeting for each party to publicly present their argument.

At the same meeting, the board must finalize a teacher contract, to include salaries, to be presented to union members.

Next, union members would vote for or against the contract. If it passes, the contract would go back to the board for final approval. If the teachers’ union rejects the contract, the board can vote to “impose” the contract anyway.

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