POLK COUNTY – Public school teachers represented by the Polk Education Association voted 1,717-670 on March 19 in favor of ratifying a contract negotiated between the union and the Polk County School Board.
The new contract for the district’s teachers now goes before the school board for final ratification.
“Thank you to all who participated in the ratification process,” Polk Education Association President Stephanie Yocum said. “Your vote always matters.”
In December, teachers voted 887-887 on a previous version of the negotiated contract, with the split vote failing to approve that version.
Union representatives and Polk County Public Schools staff met several times since then to renegotiate the contract. On Jan. 13, hundreds of Polk County school teachers attended the “Take on Tallahassee Rally: A Rally for Public Education” event.
As the talks evolved, salary was less a major focus of the negotiations than changes to improve working conditions for teachers, especially things such as increased planning time. According to a Polk County Public Schools press release dated Feb. 14, those considerations were reflected in the latest contract.
“I’m thankful to everyone for coming together and focusing on what we can do to make working conditions better for our teachers,” said Polk Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. “We heard our teachers loud and clear. They wanted more time in their classrooms to effectively prepare their lesson plans and more freedom in creating them. Ultimately, our students will achieve higher academic success if our teachers have the necessary time to strategically plan their instruction.”
Under the tentative agreement, teacher salaries remain frozen for the 2019-20 school year.
A salary freeze is also in effect under contracts recently approved with all other bargaining groups, representing para-educators; clerical support personnel; bus drivers and attendants; school nutrition assistants; and custodial and maintenance employees.
Approximately $10 million that could have been used for employee salaries instead has been invested into the insurance plan to keep healthcare costs manageable, the press release stated. Employee dependent and spousal premium costs will not increase for PCPS’ self-funded health plan. The Polk School Board covers the employee monthly premium, so coverage is provided at no cost to the district’s approximately 18,000 active employees.
Some highlights from the tentative agreement for the teacher contract: an increase from three self-directed planning periods per week to four; increased teacher autonomy with regards to lesson planning; and the addition of some language which help teachers remove students from the classroom. Also, on early release days, teachers went from having four teacher work days and three days directed by the principal to seven early release days and teachers will have six days to themselves.