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MEA Declines . . . Dearing Reacts

On Monday, July 14, 2008, Superintendent Roger Dearing contacted MEA in an attempt to meet and to discuss the Special Magistrate’s recommendations. Consistent with MEA’s position that no bargaining had taken place and again, on the advice of legal counsel, MEA declined to meet.
Today, Thursday, July 17, 2008, Dearing held a press conference to announce that he would be rejecting the Magistrate’s recommendations. His alleged purpose for doing that is to give MEA a chance to provide ideas to the School Board during a Legislative Hearing which he scheduled for August 6, 2008. However in the same breath, he again proclaimed that the only way to avoid layoffs and balance the budget is to cut salaries.
Superintendent Dearing has been bargaining with himself in the press since the School Board’s first budget workshop. He started saying it was a 5% pay cut or layoffs before the state legislature had even passed a budget.
In addition to a salary reduction, for the first time in Manatee County School Board’s history of collective bargaining, the district is proposing to freeze steps which means Manatee school employees will lose 1.5%-11% of the compensation that is owed to them.
Amid all this smoke and mirrors, MEA continues to look forward to the legitimately scheduled bargaining meetings which are scheduled to begin on Monday, July 21, 2008.
MEA thanks all of you for your continued support! Please continue to check this website regularly for updates.

MEA Responds to Recent Press

The Manatee Education Association (MEA) did not participate in the Special Magistrate Hearing on July 1st on the advice of legal counsel. The position of MEA – as explained to the Special Magistrate in advance of the hearing – is that such a hearing was not an appropriate nor legitimate legal proceeding given the district’s premature declaration of a rarely used provision in state statute called “financial urgency.”
MEA’s only option to protect the right to challenge the superintendent’s declaration of financial urgency was to, first, object to the appointment of a Special Magistrate and, second, to decline to participate in the hearing. Since there has been no bargaining, MEA disagrees that there is an impasse. The magistrate has no authority to rule on the improper declaration of financial urgency, therefore, participating in the hearing could be a waiver of MEA’s right to challenge that declaration. To further complicate the issues, even after declaring impasse, management agreed to bargaining dates beginning July 21st. It continues to be MEA’s intention to bargain.
MEA has acknowledged that all school districts in Florida are operating under extremely difficult financial constraints. However, this alone does not constitute “financial urgency” under Florida law. Allowing Manatee’s Superintendent to declare financial urgency could set a precedent that would permit all districts to declare financial urgency anytime they do not wish to meet their financial obligations under existing contracts. That is not the intent of the law. The law was intended to allow management to compel unions to the table when they were in a position of not being able to meet their financial obligations immediately – not in anticipation of a bad budget.
All 67 of Florida’s school boards were recently cautioned about prematurely declaring financial urgency and instructed to “do their homework” first. Every county --except Manatee and Taylor-- is doing just that; working hard to deal with tight budgets by exhausting all other possible cost cutting measures before proposing across the board pay cuts. Some of the options being considered include utilizing strategies to maximize FTE counts, shortening athletic seasons, reducing junior varsity/freshman athletic seasons, closing facilities during winter and spring breaks, eliminating lawn maintenance contracts, eliminating district administrative positions, offering early retirement incentives, eliminating salary bonuses for administrators, eliminating out of district travel, transferring property insurance payments to the capital fund, increasing facility rentals and eliminating district vehicle take home practices – to  name a few.
Manatee’s superintendent unilaterally decided that the easiest way to solve Manatee’s budget crunch was to reduce teacher and paraprofessional salaries and freeze their annual experience steps. He is  attempting to scare school employees, school board members and the public into submission by declaring that these are the only options for solving the district’s financial problems without laying- off employees. No one wants to see people laid off, but that threat is disingenuous since 180 teachers and paraprofessionals have already lost their jobs. Accepting a salary decrease in no way ensures that employees will remain employed. All it does is cut the spending power of 7,000 school employees.
The Manatee Education Association has offered on many occasions to meet in bargaining sessions with management. We looked forward to sitting down with management’s bargaining team to discuss all options for cutting expenses not just those involving salary decreases. The only request was that the superintendent lift the declaration of financial urgency and bargain under normal contract reopeners.
This is not the first time since becoming the superintendent in Manatee County that Roger Dearing has attempted to predetermine the outcome of bargaining without ever going to the bargaining table. The expectation of those involved in the bargaining process is that both parties come with an open mind to discuss issues related to salaries, benefits and working conditions.  It is time for our School Board to step up and insist that the district honor their obligation to bargain with its 7,000 dedicated employees in good faith.
The stakes for the children and citizens of Manatee County are high. If the two parties cannot come together and work to solve these issues, teacher and paraprofessional morale will continue to plummet and those who can will go work in districts where they feel valued and where that value is evident by competitive salaries and better working conditions.
The employees of the Manatee County Schools deserve more consideration than to have the collective bargaining process circumvented and the laws misused for the purpose of expediting the bargaining process. They deserve to have their employer negotiate in good faith with the MEA and consider every possible option for cost savings – rather than announce a predetermined fix.

FEA Attorney Tom Brooks to Magistrate: "There have been no negotiations; there can be no impasse."

PERC has appointed a Special Magistrate to deal with the "impasse" declared by management. FEA attorney, Tom Brooks, advised the Magistrate that MEA did not agree that we were at impasse and would not participate in a hearing. On Monday, June 30, 2008, the FEA attorney was notified that the hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, July 1, 2008.
The only way to challenge the superintendent's invoking of "financial urgency" is to object and not participate at each step of the process. There is no way to stop the process   only to react. MEA and FEA are prepared to file a challenge as soon as the appropriate time comes.

MEA, Management Jointly Set Bargaining Dates

Since teachers and paras left for the summer, MEA has continued to be in discussions with management about the issues related to bargaining.
Update As of June 23, 2008

Mutually agreed upon bargaining dates have been set by MEA and management.  Those dates are July 21-25 as well as July 31 and August 1.  They were the first available for all parties, including the federal mediator who facilitates the process.
MEA continues to review the district’s financial data in preparation for bargaining.

The superintendent demanded that bargaining begin and end by a time certain.  He declared “financial urgency” under section 447.4095, Florida Statutes.
MEA did not agree to the superintendent’s demand.  Although there are financial problems, the circumstances did not meet the standards of the law related to financial urgency.  In protecting the interests of our members and those of other public employees in Florida, the leadership of MEA in consultation with FEA legal determined that allowing the superintendent to misuse the law was not in the interest of those we represent and would set a standard that could negatively impact others.
The superintendent through the assistant superintendent has continued down the path he set by sending the first letter.  He has repeatedly sent demands through correspondence that MEA take his “orders”.  (Scroll down to read correspondence between MEA and management.)
MEA did not bend to the superintendent’s will, therefore, he sent what he called a “package proposal.” When MEA did not accept the proposal as he demanded, impasse was declared by management.
In spite of the scenario recapped above, MEA and management have mutually agreed to bargaining dates.
Manatee’s Approach to Florida’s Problem

There is a serious financial crisis facing all school districts in Florida; however, each School Board will make decisions about how to deal with the lack of funding. This crisis is not brought about by the impact of the passage of Amendment 1.  It is brought about by the slowing economy and the shortfall in sales tax collection which is the primary source of funding for all public services, including education.
Unlike many other School Boards in Florida, Manatee County School Board at the recommendation of the superintendent has predetermined that the only solution to our district’s shortfall in funds is to cut pay and freeze steps. They have said that doing that will keep everyone employed.  However, this has not proven to be true.  The superintendent has non-renewed the contracts or forced the retirement of many non-bargaining unit employees (those not represented by a union) and required principals to non-renew any annual contract teacher or paraprofessional for whom there was no position at the school.

Wear Black on Thursday, June 5th to Protest Education Cuts!

Plan now to join MEA Thursday, June 5th in protest of the cuts to education.
Wear black, black armbands or any other symbol of mourning.
Florida and Manatee County need leadership, not cuts!
Thursday, June 5th is the last day for students and the last day of public education as we have known it in Manatee County schools.
Due to a lack of funding by the Legislature, jobs will be lost, programs will be cut, and employees are facing proposed salary reductions and step freezes.
Please join MEA in mourning these impacts. Wear black on Thursday in protest of the impact of funding cuts on education.
Everyone join in and show your concern!

MEA Challenges Impasse Declaration

Since our last correspondence additional letters have been exchanged between the Manatee County School District and the MEA regarding "financial urgency." In addition the School District through attorney John Bowen sent a formal letter declaring impasse under F.S. 447.4095 (financial urgency) to the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC). The MEA responded by letter to PERC through its attorney Tom Brooks. 
It is apparent that the School District is more concerned with testing its ill-conceived theory of financial urgency than with exploring creative solutions to the real problems facing the Manatee County School District through the well-tested process of collaborative bargaining. 
We will continue to keep you informed as information becomes available. Thank you for your continued support.

MEA to District: Reliance on "Financial Urgency" Without Merit

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, May 20, 2008 Pat Barber, MEA President, received a letter from Herb Tschappat, Assistant Superintendent, which outlined a “package proposal” of the School District. The District claimed the proposal was made in accordance with F.S. 447.4095 which deals with financial urgency. The MEA was given an ultimatum to accept or reject the “package” by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21, 2008. 
Simultaneously, the letter and proposal were released to the press. The District spokesperson, John Bowen, explained to the press that if the MEA rejected the proposal or failed to respond, the district would declare impasse and so notify the Public Employee Relations Commission. 
On May 21, 2008, the MEA responded to Mr. Tschappat. In the response, Art Fazio, MEA Business Agent, stated that the MEA continues to disagree that F.S. 447.4095 is applicable for reasons cited in three previous letters to Mr. Tschappat and Dr. Dearing. He also questioned as to how the District could reconcile an offer to enter into Interest Based Bargaining with the letter of May 20, 2008. He, once again, accepted the offer to go to the table for negotiations, but only under the reopener language contained in the teacher and paraprofessional contracts.
It is obvious to the MEA that the District intends to declare an impasse under “financial urgency.” At that time the Florida Education Association will take appropriate legal action on behalf of the MEA to protect the interests of all its members.
In order for good faith bargaining to take place, a thorough and complete discussion of all possible areas of budget reduction must take place. The unilateral determination of the “results” of those discussions is premature and in bad faith.
Thank you for your continued support as we work through these difficult issues.

MEA Questions Declaration of "Financial Urgency"

On Wednesday, May 7th Dr. Dearing sent another letter to Pat Barber regarding his demand for bargaining under the Financial Urgency section of Florida Statutes. He called for the MEA to come to bargaining beginning May 8th at 4:30 PM at the IMC. Dr. Dearing unilaterally determined that the 14 day period for bargaining under Financial Urgency had started. He threatened to invoke the impasse provisions of Florida Statutes as of May 20th.
On May 8th Pat Barber responded to Dr. Dearing. In her letter she once again pointed out the fact that Dr. Dearing has misapplied and misinterpreted the provisions of Financial Urgency.
Pat also stated that the 14-day rush to modify the contract in order to reduce salaries of teachers and paraprofessionals is not in their best interest. She explained that the unprecedented situation we face will require unprecedented efforts to resolve the issue. 
Finally, Pat suggested that the parties discuss the establishment of a mutually agreeable schedule to discuss contract re-openers.

MEA Demands Complete Review of Manatee County School District's Budget

On Monday, May 5th Superintendent Roger Dearing sent a letter to MEA President Pat Barber demanding that the MEA enter into bargaining no later than May 7th. Dr. Dearing inappropriately invoked 447.4095, Florida Statutes that deals with financial urgency. That provision calls for 14 days of expedited bargaining when financial urgency requires modification of an agreement. Dr. Dearing has made it clear through his repeated statements to the media that his desired outcome of bargaining is to reduce salaries by as much as 5%. A ratification meeting has been scheduled by the School Board for May 21st. Dr. Dearing has demanded that bargaining conclude by May 20th. Once again Dr. Dearing has predetermined the outcome of negotiations, and has attempted to dictate the conditions under which it is to take place.
The MEA responded on May 5th with a letter that clearly and forcefully explained that Dr. Dearing’s declaration of financial urgency is premature and that the unilateral imposition of timelines is untenable.
A declaration of financial urgency must be preceded by a thoughtful review and consideration of the complete budgetary position faced by the district and its employees. The analysis must be data driven and not based upon speculative reactions to an admittedly dismal budgetary outlook. The MEA has demanded this information. We need such information in order to meet our collective bargaining obligations.
The MEA also points out that there is no need to modify the collective bargaining agreement immediately. There is an obligation under the law to explore every non-contractual source of revenue prior to any modification of a collective bargaining agreement. The MEA resisted the call by the Superintendent for immediate bargaining without a complete analysis of the financial picture, and to assume at first blush that the collective bargaining agreements shall be the first on the chopping block is not what is contemplated by the law.