Teachers fuming as recommended pay hike rejected

Heartbreaking. Embarrassing. Despicable.

Those are just some of the words from teachers, parents and local residents who lashed out at Brevard Public Schools Superintendent Mark Mullins and the School Board after Mullins rejected a special magistrate’s recommendation that reserve funds be used to increase teacher pay.

“I have four other side jobs just to make ends meet,” Billy Bechtol, a physical education teacher at Gemini Elementary, posted on the school district’s public Facebook page after Mullins’ decision was announced last week. “And you have a chance to make life a little easier for teachers and you choose not to help.”

“You ask us every day to go above and beyond for our students. Excellence as the standard. And YOU can’t go slightly above and beyond once. Again a slap in the face … I love my school, my kids, my principal, the parents and my fellow teachers. They will get my full effort. But I will turn my back to you. As you have turned your back to me,” Bechtol posted.

More than 325 similar comments were posted, including this one: “As a parent whose children are just entering the Brevard county school district, this is incredibly disappointing and disheartening. Shame on you, BPS.”

The district and the Brevard Federation of Teachers, the teachers’ union, has been at an impasse on teacher salaries since December. That meant the school year ended without a teacher contract for 2018-19, and the dispute was left to play out over the summer break.

Representatives from both sides met with special magistrate Tom Young, a professional mediator, on April 23. Young issued a recommendation on May 17 stating that the district has enough money in reserves to meet the union’s demands of a $2,300 annual pay increase for most teachers.

The school district has offered $770.

Young’s recommendation is not binding – ultimately, the School Board votes on the final teacher contract.

Young’s proposal, which was originally put forth by the union, would have taken money from the district’s non-recurring reserve funds, money that BPS says is “committed to purchases and contracts and to board-approved initiatives that include social workers, security officers and instructional coaches at schools.”

In a press release from BPS, Mullins said he rejected the recommendation because “the district could not commit $8.5 million to permanent raises from fund balances that are not recurring.”

The release said Mullins also attempted to meet with union leaders last week, possibly to make an “updated offer,” but was refused. There were no details on that offer because, under Florida public records laws, it can only be disclosed in a public meeting.

“We have not stopped working to increase employee compensation,” Mullins said. “We have scrubbed our budgets, and we now have more confidence in future funding since the release of the state budget. I’m disappointed that union leadership will not consider new, sustainable salary options.”

BFT president Anthony Colucci cried foul, saying the district had plenty of time to make another offer before last week. Colucci also said no other offers will be entertained by the union.

“There is no need to return to the table because anything less than the magistrate’s recommended amount is simply unacceptable,” he said in a BFT press release.

The next step in the process is a public meeting where both the district and BFT will present their arguments. Under the rules of mediation, the School Board is required at that meeting to finalize a contract to present to teachers.

State law requires “reasonable notice” of such meetings. Meeting dates and announcements are usually posted on the School Board section of the BPS website.

After the School Board finalizes the contract, the teachers’ union votes on it. But, just like mediation, the union vote is nonbinding. Whether the contract is approved by teacher’s or not, it would go back to the board for final approval.

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