BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – Frustrated and at impasse, Polk County teachers and support staff will rally today at a school board meeting.
The Polk County School District declared an impasse on January 6th in the collective bargaining negotiations with its two unions: the Polk Education Association (PEA) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2227.
The primary dispute is over wages.
PEA received a salary proposal with no raises from the School Board in October for the Teaching/Instructional and Support Staff it represents.
PEA proposed an increase to all supplements, citing that they have languished for years without increase. The proposal amounts to an overall 3.41 percent increase.
According to a statement released by the district, this increase would add more than $10 million in recurring costs to the District’s budget. In April 2015, wages and benefits for the PEA unit increased by $13 million. In May 2016, wages and benefits increased by more than $12 million retroactive to July 1, 2015.
AFSCME seeks a 2.5 percent wage increase, which would add just under $3 million to the District’s recurring budget. Previously, AFSCME Local 2227 bargaining unit members received wage and benefits increases in 2014 of more than $1.5 million and just under $3 million in 2015.
The District rejected both wage proposals. Although the School District of Polk County is the eighth-largest in the State of Florida by student enrollment, it ranks 64th out of 67th by per-student funding.
The Polk Education Association, frustrated by the fact that the School Board has not bargained with honest intent, asked the teachers and support staff it represents to rally at the January 24 School Board meeting.
“The district has employed a hired gun law firm from Tallahassee to ‘negotiate’ against its employees. It appears that the only thing the district has money for is hiring out-of-town lawyers to work against its own hard-working and dedicated staff,” said Marianne Capoziello, President of the Polk Education Association.
“It seems that the PEA bargaining team’s worst fears have come to fruition,” said Capoziello. “The team believed that this was the district’s plan all along. The tenor at the table, the lack of meaningful dialog and the lack of respect for the process was evident from the beginning. Our team wanted to find solutions and wanted to find reasonable compromise and their team simply bides time and declared impasse.”
Proposals on health Insurance, teacher evaluations and transfer policies are also in the mix.