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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, August 7, 2009
Teacher pay remains in limbo

Monroe County public school teachers will return to their classes next week, but still don't know how much they'll be paid for their work.

Union salary negotiations for teachers and non-instructional staff remain stagnant, leaving United Teachers of Monroe President Leon Fowler critical of the School Board for spending money to investigate the financial scandal -- money he said could have funded the raises the union wants.

"Our salary request is still at the initial position as it was on June 23, the first day of negotiations," Fowler said Monday.

The union has requested a step increase and a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers, custodians and blue-collar employees in maintenance, transportation and food service. The union also wants a $50 monthly tool allotment for maintenance mechanics, union documents show.

"They didn't have to bring in outside attorneys to investigate something the state attorney is already looking into," Fowler said. "They have already wasted more money than it cost to pay the employees their step raise, and the spending hasn't stopped yet. It is frustrating to watch all of the dollars saved from budget cuts going to attorneys and auditors."

The investigation has cost $214,594, school officials said.

"The money that was stolen also could have gone to teacher salary increases," board Chairman Andy Griffiths said.

The School Board in spring hired investigator Richard Fechter and attorney Latour Lafferty, the former to determine how many employees might have misspent school money or violated financial policies and the latter to advise on possibly disciplining them.

Though several administrators and employees were criticized for not catching former Adult Education Coordinator Monique Acevedo's alleged theft of school funds, the School Board disciplined no one.

To date, Fechter has charged the district $121,898 and Lafferty $92,696, School Board secretary Sally Smith said.

Teacher pay starts at $42,330, according to this year's salary schedule. The union has requested a step increase to $42,769 for teachers in their second year, said Holly Hummell-Gorman, union vice president.

School Board members said they couldn't talk about union negotiations.

"This is something we really are bound to not talk about, as it's part of negotiations," board member John Dick said. "The board should not be quoted on it."

Negotiations were to restart Monday, but the school district postponed the meeting to prepare for its annual school preparation conference at Key West High School.

If the union and district have not reached an agreement by the time teachers report to class on Tuesday -- the mid-1990s was the last time that happened -- teachers and employees will return to work at the 2008-09 rate of pay. Declaring an impasse is a process that "takes a few months to complete," Fowler said.

The union last year negotiated a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and an average 2 percent step increase.

jguerra@keysnews.com

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