By Rachel Christian
Murmurs and sighs filled an Osceola County School District board room Tuesday morning as officials chose not to implement certain pay raises or offset health insurance hikes for local teachers and support staff for the 2018-19 school year.
The hearing served as a final step in a more than four-month tedious bargaining process between the district and Osceola County Education Association (OCEA), a union that represents more than 6,600 employees.
The union’s side
Union leaders were less than optimistic heading into the hearing, despite a recommendation in their favor from a neutral third-party magistrate two months ago.
“The School Board will ultimately vote how it wants,” said OCEA President Apryle Jackson prior to Tuesday’s hearing. “We just hope they do the right things by our teachers.”
A lot was on the collective bargaining table this year, but significant health care hikes drew the greatest outcry from teachers and staff.
Employee premiums – especially family, spouse and child plans – were set to jump under the district proposed contract. An employee receiving middle-of-the-road coverage for themselves and a child would see a nearly 65 percent yearly increase from $2,900 to $4,780 in premium costs.
The news overshadowed a one-time $1,000 educator bonus and 30 cent hourly raise for support staff.
The union mobilized members to speak out against health care increases at school board meetings in April.
The district’s side
But school officials held fast that increases were necessary to offset mounting district debt.
“You can’t just not pay your bills,” Chief Financial Officer Sarah Graber told the News-Gazette in May, referencing the district’s $2.4 million health care trust fund debt.
Debt grew as the district delayed increasing employee premiums for the last four years, Graber said. She added that Osceola County is one of only three districts in Florida to offer a free basic health insurance single employee plan – though she acknowledged this could “absolutely” go away next year as national health care costs continue to climb.
Both the district and the union had 15 minutes on Tuesday to make final arguments before discussion opened to school board members.
Kelvin Soto served as the sole supporter of the special magistrate’s findings in favor of the union.
“Both sides here agreed to subject this to a special magistrate, a neutral magistrate, and there was a decision made and I don’t think that can just be ignored,” Soto said.
His motion to approve the magistrate’s findings died on the floor.
The board ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of superintendent recommendations instead.
- The support staff will receive a 30-cent an hour raise and not the 50-cent raise asked for by the union.
Teachers will not receive the one-time $1,000 payment. The bonus was taken off the table to offset health care premium costs.
Educators will also not receive any retention bonuses.
Changes to health insurance plans still need to be voted on and ratified by the school board, but are expected to increase, though slightly less than originally proposed by the district.
- Teachers deemed “highly effective” will receive a $1,200 raise and $900 for “effective” teachers.
Teachers grandfathered into the district’s previous pay increase schedule will receive a $1,150 raise.