Posted on Thu, Jul. 03, 2008
By KATHLEEN McGRORY
The Miami-Dade teachers union and school-district officials ended the second day of negotiations over salary increases Wednesday without making much progress -- and with no resolution in sight.
During the four-hour bargaining session, district officials picked apart a list of proposed savings proffered by the union leadership. If adopted, union leaders said, the district would not have to withhold the raises and cost-of-living increases promised to employees to balance its budget.
But district officials found little savings in the ideas.
After the meeting, United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz said she was frustrated.
''We're trying to find savings, but we haven't even seen a copy of the budget,'' she said. ``It's like we're aiming at a moving target.''
In the face of a $284 million financial crisis, district officials have said they do not have the $72 million needed to pay out the contractually-negotiated raises.
School Superintendent Rudy Crew has said he would not immediately take his raise. District spokesman John Schuster said Wednesday the superintendent planned to postpone it until the negotiations are through.
School-system officials say they are willing to negotiate a partial payment for employees. But union leaders have said they will not settle for anything less than the entire increase.
About 60 people were crammed into a seventh-floor conference room, with many teachers sporting UTD buttons or T-shirts. More than a dozen watched the negotiations from the building's auditorium, which had been designated as the overflow area.
Husband-and-wife teachers Seth and Katie Patterson said they were disheartened by the district's approach to balancing the budget.
''We're here not just for the money, but because of how we're being treated,'' said Seth Patterson, adding that he and his wife had considered moving to another state. ``We aren't being treated like professionals.''
The mood was tense.
The district's arbitration team opened with a warning: More budget reductions could be coming from Tallahassee, said Ofelia San Pedro, deputy superintendent for business operations.
''This is not a matter of priority or what we want to do,'' San Pedro said. ``It's a matter of, if we don't plan for a revenue decrease and it happens, we could put this district in a very bad financial situation.''
Labor consultant Howard Tames said the district hoped to reach a compromise with the teachers.
''It's the district's position that all employees are important and we want to give money to them,'' Tames said. ``But by law, the budget gap has to be filled before we can give out the raises.''
UTD lawyer Libby Navarette said she was doubtful.
''This is unacceptable,'' she said. ``Figure out a way to find the money. You've got it.''
The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to the UTD suggestions, which included cutting central-office positions, eliminating school discretionary funds, and moving some principals and vice principals back into the classroom.
Aronowitz said the ideas would result in more than $72 million in savings.
San Pedro estimated the savings at less than $20 million.
At one point, the two exchanged pointed words over budget documents.
Aronowitz said she had asked San Pedro for a draft copy of the 2008-2009 budget at the first round of negotiations. San Pedro, however, said the document did not yet exist.
''Come up with the document,'' Aronowitz said.
''It's not going to be ready for another two weeks,'' San Pedro responded. ``You can keep asking for it, but I'm telling you it's not going to be ready until the middle of July.''
They agreed to resume talks Thursday morning.
San Pedro said the two sides made some progress Wednesday.
''There was this notion that we weren't listening to their ideas,'' San Pedro said. ``I think we've shown that we put a lot of thought into their suggestions.''
Aronowitz was less satisfied.
''At this moment,'' she said, ``I have no idea what's next.''