The St. Johns County School District and the St. Johns Education Association might be one step closer in resolving several months of disagreements.
Early this week, Special Magistrate Lou Imundo Jr. sent recommendations to the two sides regarding four issues presented during an April impasse hearing.
But it will be another 20 days before the district and union decide whether to accept or reject those recommendations.
“It’s a bit of a waiting game now,” said Michelle Dillon, the SJEA president.
Negotiations over performance-based salary increases, associate teacher compensation, advanced degree compensation and annual contract language began last August. In December, the union declared an impasse.
On the first of four issues, Imundo ruled in favor of the district on performance-based salary increases. By the district’s discretion, teachers hired before July 1, 2011, on the grandfathered pay schedule would receive a salary increase of $597 for effective and highly effective ratings. Teachers hired after the July date are considered pay-for-performance, receiving a salary increase of $598 for “effective” and $806 for “highly effective” ratings.
The union proposed a salary increase of $1,345 for grandfathered teachers rating effective or highly effective, with pay-for-performance teachers receiving a salary increase of $1,346 for effective and $1,816 for highly effective.
Imundo was swayed by the district’s budget concerns, stating that salary increases could cause financial strain.
“The increase in the number of students and the additional expenses incurred coupled with decreased tax revenues and state funding has resulted in the district’s reserve fund being depleted,” Imundo said in his recommendation. “Currently, the fund has less than $6 million.”
Regarding associate teacher compensation, the union proposed raising base salary to $30,000, while the district suggested a $300 increase from $26,000.
The union argued that the increase for associate teachers is necessary as they often perform duties similar to lead teachers, while the district countered associate teachers quickly move into lead positions anyway.
But upon reviewing the responsibilities held by associate teachers, Imundo agreed with the union, favoring the salary increases.
The recommendation also backed the union’s request to grant the same advanced degree supplement to pay-for-performance teachers as grandfathered pay teachers.
The annual supplement is $2,000 for teachers hired after July 1, 2011, regardless of special degree certification. Teachers hired before that date receive an annual supplement of $2,650 for a master’s degree; $3,650 for a specialists’ degree; and $4,650 for a doctorate degree.
“In the [special magistrate’s] opinion, the district’s financial condition and the outlook for the future has significantly improved in the past few years,” Imundo stated.
Finally, Imundo addressed annual contract language and sided with the union, declaring their proposal “legal.”
Although the district argued the intent of the Student Success Act (Senate Bill 736) is to terminate tenure contracts, Imundo said he believes local school districts can still bargain on the subject.
The union’s proposal grants teachers an automatic fourth year upon three consecutive years of effective or highly effective performance evaluations, so long as teachers are properly certified and have no disciplinary marks against them from the current school year.
“The proposed annual contract renewal language will have a positive impact on teacher morale, make the district more attractive to prospective teachers and quite possibly result in teachers being more effective inside and outside of the classroom,” the special magistrate stated.
Dillon said from here, the recommendations are up for debate over the next several weeks.
“This is one step at a time. At this point there’s a waiting period to accept, deny, or a combination of the two,” Dillon said. “Then we will select the dates for a public hearing in front of the school board. Ultimately it’s the school board’s decision.”
School Board Chair Patrick Canan said in a statement that all of the time will be used wisely.
“We take the negotiation process very seriously and will use this time to thoroughly review the information received,” Canan said.