By ALICIA LEONARD
Special Magistrate (SM) Tom Young flew in from Tampa, Fla. to hear both sides of the teacher raise issue this prior week. On Friday, May 2, 2014 the Walton County School District (WCSD) and the Walton County Education Association(WCEA) presented their cases to Young. Both sides made opening statements to lay out their case before the SM. Young was retained by the Public Employee Relations Commission(PERC) to hear the case. He has experience on both sides of the table as a retired public relations and employment attorney with 40 years experience, and as a prior school board member, among the many hats he has worn.
Before opening statements, both sides went though evidence and stipulations whether both sides agreed to what was being presented. Many documents were agreed upon by both sides and most of the information was admitted into evidence except for a few documents the WCEA attempted to submit, but only due to their lack of a supporting witness, since the documents had been compiled over many years.
The District went over their projected budget as the main evidence of their case, saying that falling under the 3-percent statue in their general fund could have dire consequences to the district, citing possible problems obtaining loans, credit rating issues as well as state involvement in the district, if the funds fall even lower than 3 percent.
The union told Young they believe there are funds available for the raises in the general operating budget because projected expenses would not be as high as the district believed. The district countered that insurance for employees alone had gone up this year, totaling close to an extra $800,000 from this year’s budget.
Both sides seem to be having issues over the amount that support personnel received and where it came from during the hearing, with the union pointing out they believed those workers deserved their raise, but believed they should be paid out of the general fund, and all state allocated funds should go to teachers. Since ratifying their agreement and receiving approval from the board, those support personnel have received back pay and the raises they agreed to from the general fund, until the district receives the earmarked funds from the state.
The meeting ran most of the day, with Young asking for briefs to be filed from both sides electronically by May 9, instead of both sides giving a closing argument. He will then send the opposing sides’ briefs to each other electronically and render his recommendation electronically on May 12.
Both sides are working together to try and work out the agreement before the funds revert back to the state. The Department of Education has requested the plans be submitted by May 30, but Union reps expressed they believed the end of June was really the deadline for submissions.
Young’s recommendation will be considered by both sides, but is not binding, and teachers may decide to vote on the recommendation. The recommendation from the SM will also come before the board for its consideration. It is non-binding, and the union’s only recourse may be to come before the board for a decision on how the funds will be allocated and where they will come from.
By ALICIA LEONARD