At last Tuesday’s local school board meeting here in Hillsborough County, I addressed the board members and district leadership about a different topic but left the meeting feeling remiss for not having discussed the then upcoming bargaining session that happened this past Friday. The last time the two sides met was on July 25th, so it had been eight weeks since the they last discussed monetary matters; I was hopeful that the district would come to the table prepared to make an offer now that the final annual budget had been approved.
That hope was misplaced.
Though this was the first bargaining session I did not attend, apparently it was more of the same: our district coming to the table with the same threadbare excuse of not knowing about the budget and/or their funding. This time apparently the new concern is not knowing the impacts of HB7069 and Hurricane Irma.
Though I am only one person and this is only my personal opinion, I cannot help but strongly believe this was a huge missed opportunity for the district.
Like many school districts all over our state, Hillsborough County handled the challenge of Hurricane Irma with expertise and professionalism. We all pulled together and served over 29,000 of our neighbors who sought shelter from the storm in our schools during that tumultuous time. Our superintendent, Jeff Eakins, received much praise for his leadership and gracious gesture of paying employees a week in advance, and there was a momentary bump in morale among most district employees, especially the 15,000 or so teachers who work for HCPS.
On the heels of this positive press, then, the bargaining team should have been sent into the meeting with a viable offer rather than the same old song and dance we’ve heard the previous four times. While I cannot speak for the bargaining team or the rest of the union, I can’t help but feel that bargaining would have concluded if that they had actually come prepared to concede to the minor points that have already been agreed upon (NBCT bonuses, Renaissance pay, etc) as well as willing to give all teachers their year of earned experience AND pay back all of the missing Performance Pay monies from last year.
I firmly believe this would have been a win-win for the district administration. It would have capitalized upon and further increased the sorely needed morale boost among the employees, and it would have given the district even more positive press. Moreover, employees would have received their raises and retro in a more timely manner, rather than waiting until the very end of the year as we have the past two years.
Instead, we are all left feeling completely dismayed, especially in light of the fact that the district had came in under budget for payroll last year by $40 million, which would have easily covered all of these costs. But now we wait. Again. And all the while our faith continues to wane, our patience grows thin, and the morale boost evaporates.