Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | November 9, 2021
Orange County Public Schools cannot afford more than tiny teacher raises this year but should give its veteran instructors a “longevity supplement” and should not do the “unconscionable” and hike employee health insurance costs, according to a special magistrate’s report on the labor dispute between OCPS and its teachers’ union.
Special Magistrate Dennis Campagna weighed in on the Orange school district’s fight after the union and district administrators could not negotiate an agreement on salaries and other compensation issues.
Campagna’s report was issued Monday and followed a two-day impasse hearing he presided over in September. His recommendations are not binding but could be if both sides accept his report and teachers then vote to approve it.
If the two sides disagree, a final decision falls to the Orange County School Board.
Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, said the union’s bargaining team was reviewing the magistrate’s report but was pleased it included some recommendations that would benefit teachers.
The district’s legal team was also reviewing it, said Michael Ollendorff, a district spokesperson, in an email.
The union and the district have 20 days to decide whether to accept the report.
During the impasse hearing, the school district rightly argued it does not have enough money in its budget to pay for the raises the union wants without taking “drastic steps,” Campagna wrote in his report.
“This Magistrate is not prepared to recommend the salary increase sought by the Union where the funding for such would be paid for primarily through staff and program cuts,” he said.
The union’s proposal — raises of about $3,000 for most teachers — would cost $60 million a year, a price tag that would become a ongoing yearly cost. The union said the district had enough in its reserve fund but district budget leaders said recurring expenses should not be paid from savings.
The district proposed raises of about $175 for most teachers, saying state budget cuts made it impossible to do more. But it also offered bonuses and one-time supplements of up to $3,500, saying those were doable this year as they would not become a recurring expense.
Campagna, noting most of the district’s $2.3 billion operating budget is dependent on state funding, said the district’s salary proposal should be accepted.
But he also ruled that the union’s proposal for additional supplemental pay for veteran instructors should be adopted, too, as part of a “balanced approach that was within the ability of the district to pay.”
Like counterparts across Florida, union leaders worried that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push in 2020 to make the minimum teacher pay $47,500 meant little money available to give raises to those already earning above the new minimum.
In Orange, teachers with five years experience now earn the same as a brand-new instructor just out of college and those with 15 years experience earn only $6,000 more than the new teacher, Campagna wrote.
“I see merit in the Union’s concern,” he said.
To remedy that, the union proposed supplements of $500 to $3,000 for teachers with five or more years in the classroom, and Campagna said those should be paid.
He also said the district’s proposed hikes to health insurance costs should be rejected, saying they would mean less take-home pay for employees. The district’s proposal included increases to deductibles, out-of-pocket maximum costs and prescription drugs.
Campagna wrote that given the financial struggles of many teachers and the fact that they worked during the coronavirus pandemic putting “their own health at risk by continuing to perform their teaching duties with students on an in-person basis,” there was no justification for insurance cost hikes this year.
“It would be unconscionable to recommend that bargaining unit members pay more than the status quo for health care,” he said. “While there may be a time to do so, now is surely not the time.”