Polk County Public Schools and the Polk Education Association have reached tentative salary and contract agreements for the 2019-20 school year.
“I am grateful that the district and union were able to work together to stabilize our 2020 calendar year health plan,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.
“This year, a major focus was making sure employee costs for the plan did not rise. We were able to accomplish this. There are no increases to premiums, co-pays or deductibles under the terms of this agreement.”
The school district and PEA reached tentative agreements that freeze salaries for the 2019-20 school year, but also ensure no employee premium increase for the district’s 2020 self-funded health plan.
The PEA represents teachers, paraeducators and clerical support personnel.
In order to keep employee health plan costs from rising, the district will incur approximately $10 million in additional costs.
PEA President Stephanie Yocum said her membership understands the financial pressures the district is experiencing. She and her team sought to strike a balance between the financial limitations of the district and the needs of PCPS employees.
“The school district’s fund balance is like a state-mandated savings account. This is where the district pulled money to pay for last year’s small raises, and now the fund balance is hovering at right around 4 percent,” Yocum said.
When any school district’s fund balance falls below 3 percent, that district is at risk for financial takeover by the state.
Yocum continued, “After many sessions of debate and deliberation between the district and PEA negotiation teams, we believe that the best use of the $10 million that can be used for salaries and benefits must be funneled into our 2020 health insurance plan to keep it viable and affordable.”
“Any small salary increase would have been paired with crippling premium and deductible increases. Most of PEA’s bargaining unit would have netted less money than they currently are bringing home,” Yocum said.
Under the tentative agreements with each of the three bargaining units, the employee health plan costs remain unchanged from last year.
There is no monthly health insurance premium for the individual employee.
As in previous years, there are costs for covering family members. These monthly premium costs will stay the same as last year. The cost to insure the employee’s spouse is $594 per month. The cost to insure one child is $105 per month. The cost to insure two children is $210 per month. The cost to insure three or more children is $245 per month.
There is still no cost for employees, retired employees, their spouses, and children on the PCPS health plan to go to the school district’s two health clinics. The School Board contributes each month to make the free health clinics possible.
This year is what is known as an “open book year” for contract negotiations between the school district and the PEA. During open book years, all areas of the contract are open for review and negotiation.
The school district and PEA agreed on a number of changes that directly relate to working conditions for teachers and other school-based personnel.
A few of the highlights to existing contract language:
- Teachers who are eligible to transfer to another teaching position will have 10 days before their principals are notified of their intent to transfer. Currently, principals are notified immediately. Yocum said the 10-day waiting period will allow teachers to notify their principals and colleagues themselves, which is important to their professional relationships.
- Teachers will be guaranteed three 45-minute self-directed planning periods per week, even during heavy student testing seasons.
- To ease their workload, the number of required pages in a daily lesson plan will be capped at five per week for most teachers.
- Clerical employees who transfer to paraeducator positions will be returned to their previous position or moved into a similar clerical position if their job performance as a paraeducator is unsatisfactory.
- Student early dismissal days may be used for paraeducator training.
- Both PEA and the district will form a committee to explore transitioning from monthly pay periods to bi-monthly pay periods by the 2021-22 school year. The committee will research the feasibility of such a transition, concerns related to it, as well as whether current employees could keep monthly pay periods if desired.
- If the school district requires an employee to have a physical or psychiatric examination, the school district must provide the employee with a list of practicing doctors. The doctors must not be employees of the district’s health clinics. The district must pay for the exam.
- Pursuant to federal laws, employees who are members of the national military service or the National Guard who are ordered to active or inactive training duty during the regular school year will be compensated for up to 240 hours in any one annual period to participate in training exercises without loss of accumulated leave.
- Employees who are service members of the National Guard or a reserve component of the Armed Forces of the United States will be granted leave to perform their military service under the provisions of federal law and Florida statutes.
Each of the PEA’s three bargaining groups are expected to vote whether to ratify these tentative contracts in December. These contracts are anticipated to be presented to the School Board for approval in January.