Deadline looms for retro pay hike for teachers

Posted on February 15, 2017 by Romi White

Last week Santa Rosa County Schools Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick declared an “impasse” in contract negotiations with the district’s teachers’ union. Now the two sides are not in agreement with how to move forward with arbitration.

At stake is retroactive salary increases for the district’s teachers — at a time when both sides agree there is a significant shortage of teachers and a focus on recruitment and retention.

Santa Rosa Professional Educators are pushing for retroactive 2.77-percent salary increase for this fiscal year, which started July 1, 2016, totaling roughly $3.2 million, including benefits.

SRPE’s bargaining unit has twice rejected the district’s $2.4-million offer of a 1.8-percent increase, pointing out the district has millions in additional revenue over last year and an improved financial condition ratio.

Because of the impasse, the two parties could agree to appeal directly to the school board, which has final decision-making authority, or the matter will be heard by a third-party magistrate, who would make a recommendation the school board may or may not follow.

Wyrosdick has asked the union to move directly to a school board hearing. “We can hold the hearing in February or early March, resolve this issue and pay our employees the retroactive pay…. As you are aware, using a special magistrate will most assuredly push the process well into April or May removing our option to pay employees retroactive pay,” he stated in a Feb. 10 letter to SRPE.

According to Wyrosdick, the clock is ticking toward a March 15 deadline for “payroll processing” he claims would prevent the district from making retroactive payments.

In her response letter issued yesterday, SRPE President Rhonda Chavers stated, “If (the school board) choose to withhold retroactive pay from employees, it will be the first time this district has ever done so in its history. I, of course, do not recommend that the board take this unprecedented action.”

Chavers, who began working for the district in August 1975, told South Santa Rosa News, “Every Superintendent has given retro pay. It’s like (he’s) in the sandbox and bending my fingers back,” she said, adding, “It would be cost-effective for the district to deny retro pay because the money they don’t pay employees would roll back into their fund balance.”

Additionally, she stated “it is in the best interest of both parties to obtain an opinion and recommendation from a neutral third party… When the parties are deadlocked, a fresh perspective should be introduced to the mix.”

Therefore, the issue will be heard before a magistrate, and the parties have until March 6 to decide which one from a list sent yesterday by the Public Employee Relations Commission.

Chavers said picking a magistrate is akin to a jury selection process in which each side can eliminate choices until a decision is made. She said it will likely be six to eight weeks before a magistrate hearing takes place.