With 10 grievances and two unfair labor practices complaints from the teachers union pending against the Monroe County School District, both sides decided Wednesday to postpone another sit-down at the bargaining table and consider a settlement that would avoid a lengthy legal battle.
All argument over the teachers' contract remains on hold while the United Teachers of Monroe leaders decide whether to press forward with complaints to the state's Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) or simply let that agency render an opinion without holding a hearing.
The threshold issue is whether the School Board was correct in reducing the 2011-12 fiscal year budget without first returning to the bargaining table for further negotiations.
"We had a good discussion today," Schools Superintendent Jesus Jara said. "They have a decision to make. They are supposed to huddle up and come back to us with a decision on what the next steps are."
No new date was scheduled for a negotiating session, which initially was set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, then pushed back to 3 p.m., then canceled altogether.
Instead, the negotiation teams from the School District and the union met privately to discuss possibly hammering out an agreement without having to take a lengthy and expensive legal route, union President Holly Hummell-Gorman said.
"It was a closed session so that we could discuss settlement options for grievances," she said. "We are exploring whether we will submit it to PERC for their ruling. I just sent out a notice to our membership hoping that they feel like this is a positive move and it's hopefully going to expedite and save the taxpayers money as far as legal fees."
The sides met for about two hours Wednesday, said Jara, who attended the meeting with Chief Financial Officer Michael Kinneer, Human Resources Director Cheryl Allen and attorney Robert Norton, a veteran labor lawyer hired specifically for the union negotiations.
On the union's side were Hummell-Gorman, chief negotiator Leon Fowler and two representatives from the Florida Education Association.
"We're just trying to get a finalizing resolution before we continue to bargain," Jara said. "They have a decision to make. We're making progress. Anything is possible."
At issue for the union is Jara's decision in July to mandate seven furlough days for teachers -- instead of the three unpaid days the union agreed to earlier this year -- and freeze raises and "performance pay" to balance the 2012 fiscal year budget, which endured some $10 million in cuts before the School Board approved it last month.