For all the bitterness and controversy swirling around the seven "furlough days" that have been in place for School District employees since 2011, the vote that ended them was swift and uneventful.
Meeting in Key West Tuesday night, the School Board agreed unanimously to do away with the furloughs, which have been referred to as a "pay cut," by board member Ed Davidson and others, since they don't seem to meet any board member's definition of "furlough."
"So moved!" District 4 member Ron Martin exclaimed as the roll was called. As the only board member with experience as a Monroe County teacher and school principal, Martin has been particularly vocal about the cost-saving measure and his eagerness to make it go away.
But there was plenty of verbal backslapping on display during Tuesday's vote as board members and Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter basked in the opportunity to do away with the single-biggest bone of contention between the board/district and the 940 or so district employees affected by the measure, including the teachers represented by the United Teachers of Monroe union.
That organization has been locked in lengthy negotiating with the district over a number of issues, with more than 20 collaborative bargaining sessions already held. Privately, certain board members have indicated that they saw ending the furloughs -- and thus putting more money in district employees' paychecks -- being held hostage to talks they saw as dragging out over minutiae.
On Tuesday, the district and board took that bargaining chip off the table and handed it directly to their workers, to the delight of one of the most visible of those employees.
"The motion carries. Bravo," said Sally Abrams Smith, administrative aide to Porter.
Though the unanimous verdict does nothing to undo the damage inflicted on employees' bottom lines for the past two years, it prevents more damage happening for a third year. Porter has previously stated that the money to pay for the lifting of the furloughs will be taken from the existing, balanced district budget.
"Once again, I want everyone to recognize that it's your neighbors and friends and people in your school communities that are buying back your furlough days," Davidson said during debate on the measure, adding, "The government didn't give a nickel for all our worker bees ... the School Board is funding this 100 percent ... this is really a financial rectification from the community. We've cut some other corners to make this right. Good riddance to the furlough days."
District 4 member John Dick concurred: "It was the board's decision first," he said.
Porter also expressed approval over the board's vote.
"Thank you to the board," he said. "[The vote] ends a two-year period that's been very difficult. I do know that many of the tough decisions ... have in part contributed to our ability to do this ... . It doesn't make everyone whole, but it was the right thing to do."
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the board voted to sign a new contract with employee drug plan provider Envision Prescription Options, a pass-through plan similar to the current scheme.
And an action item to cut a check to former district employee Bill Sprague was pulled from the agenda at the last minute by the superintendent, due, he said, to Sprague being out of the country.
Sprague served as the district's representative to contractor Coastal Construction during a part of the construction of Horace O'Bryant School, and was entitled to a percentage of savings realized during the project. Board member Davidson, however, has publicly rejected the math upon which Sprague's request for compensation is based.
In addition, the board discussed preparations for the superintendent's annual review, as well as the fallout from Gov. Rick Scott's decision to withdraw from the federal Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a move that caught many observers flat-footed, as it is seen as critical to the success of the upcoming Common Core Curriculum.
The superintendent also canceled a workshop scheduled for Oct. 8. The board meets next at 5 p.m. Oct. 22 at Marathon High School.