BROWARD SCHOOLS

Broward owes teachers for back pay over 7-period schedules

 

mrvasquez@MiamiHerald.com

After an overhaul of high school schedules implemented last year — forcing some teachers to take on an additional class — the Broward school district now owes its teachers as much as $20 million in back pay.

The district doesn’t dispute its teachers are owed money, but in closed-door negotiations, officials have requested a 20-year payment plan, according to Broward Teachers Union President Sharon Glickman.

Glickman said she was astounded by the “insulting” offer, and immediately rejected it.

“I said, ‘You’re going to pay teachers when they’re in the cemetery, when they’re no longer alive?,’” Glickman said, adding that she’s received hundreds of emails from teachers who want to be paid immediately. Glickman said the school district also made a separate offer: pay the affected teachers between $2,000 and $3,000 each, over a period of a couple of years.

That, too, was a no-go, Glickman said, because the teachers are owed between $6,000 and $12,000 each, depending on their level of experience and salary.

Glickman said the union is willing to accept a five-year repayment of the full amount that teachers are owed.

The pay issue, and the high school scheduling that caused it, has led to growing tensions between school district leaders and the teachers union. The union twice filed contract grievances and in both cases won. Arbitrators ruled that Broward improperly altered high school schedules and that the district owes its teachers for back hourly wages.

Those arbitration decisions are legally binding, but the district has yet to pay its teachers or revert back to the high school schedules of two years ago, which is what it was ordered to do.

On Tuesday, Glickman publicly complained to School Board members about the back-pay issue and divulged that the district had attempted to settle its debt through a 20-year payment plan.

When Glickman finished her speech, board members didn’t say anything — instead letting Superintendent Robert Runcie respond. He was visibly frustrated by the discussion, and he said the teachers’ demands for payment have to be balanced with other needs and priorities.

“I can’t do that at the expense of destroying the whole district,” Runcie said.

It was Runcie who last year forced high schools to adopt a uniform, seven-period class schedule — a change that was controversial from the start. Only a handful of Broward’s 29 high schools had been using a seven-period schedule at that point, and about a dozen schools had to abandon their popular “block” scheduling format.

For many high school teachers, the new schedules meant they would teach six classes instead of five.

Runcie pitched the schedules as an efficient way to reduce class sizes. Broward in recent years was in blatant violation of Florida’s class-size limits.

Two years ago, almost half of the district’s classes had too many students, resulting in a state fine of $8.5 million.

Last year saw improvement, with more than 87 percent of classes complying with the rules. The uniform high school schedules may have contributed to this success, along with other measures like hiring hundreds more teachers.

But over the summer, an arbitrator ruled that Broward had “completely ignored” contract provisions that allow teachers to keep their school’s current schedule if they prefer. Under the contract, two-thirds of faculty are supposed to vote in support of any schedule changes. That rule wasn’t followed.

Last week, a second arbitrator ruled that high school teachers were also entitled to back pay for being forced to teach a sixth class. In addition to the $20 million in back pay owed, the district could be on the hook for another $20 million if it continues its six-class teaching requirement for the rest of this school year, Glickman said.

The union leader said it appears the district improved class-size compliance by simply pushing extra work on teachers, and then refusing to pay them for it.

“Is that a creative way? Is that an appropriate way?” Glickman asked. “It’s not acceptable.”

Runcie said he’d like to immediately pay teachers the total amount owed, but the district can’t afford it. He defended the strategy for reducing class sizes.

“The facts are what they are, we made progress,” Runcie said. “Am I concerned that we got teachers out there that are overworked and undercompensated? Absolutely. I think about that literally every day.”

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