Short-lived labor rifts between the Miami-Dade School District and its unions representing bus drivers and schools police appear to be over.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced tentative agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees during Wednesday’s school board meeting.
The preliminary deals need to be ratified by union members. But the agreements signal an end to brief tensions that for bus drivers contributed to an apparent “sick-out” strike and for the police union led to a brief campaign to publicize crime in schools.
“This was not an easy year for negotiations,” said Carvalho, noting problems between other South Florida governments and unions. “As difficult as it may have been for us, as we look around it seems to be impossible for everyone else.”
For AFSCME members, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers, the agreement includes a 2.3 percent raise and a small bonus. The district and union also tweaked healthcare plans after a disagreement over increasing costs for both the district and employees stalled negotiations and contributed to an apparent “sick-out” by hundreds bus drivers.
Those drivers, frustrated over a sudden spike in benefits fees taken out of their paychecks, skipped a day of work in January. That left some students stranded and caused scores to be late for school. In response, the district launched an ongoing investigation into whether a few employees had instigated an illegal public employee strike.
Both Carvalho and union president Sherman Henry said the deal is the best they could craft at a time when budgets remain tight.
“It’s not what it ought to be in some cases, not what it should be, but thank God we’re moving forward as one,” said Henry.
The district also inked a tentative deal Wednesday with the Fraternal Order of Police, which has said for at least a year now that officers trained and hired by the district end up leaving for other departments due to low salaries. The terms of the agreement weren’t immediately clear, as union president Lt. Howard Giraldo said details were still being hammered out even after the district and union made their announcement.
“Does this close that revolving door you’ve heard me talk about so much? Not necessarily,” said Giraldo. “But it slows things down.”
The agreements with the two unions and School Board approval Wednesday of a contract with maintenance workers mean the district, which has about 50,000 employees, has likely resolved contract negotiations with all five of its unions. All unions received pay raises due largely to the district’s decision to set aside a few million from the $63 million in “teacher raises” provided this summer by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature.
In other news Wednesday, the School Board agreed to review its policies regarding the search and seizure of digital devices. The proposal by Raquel Regalado comes as the district prepares to distribute the first 28,000 of 100,000 Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Windows 8 devices to students who can’t afford to purchase their own technology.
Regalado said the district needs to have a solid plan for how laptops and tablets can and will be searched as students bring personal laptops and tablets to school and take school board-owned devices home with them. She also said the district needs to make clear to families their rights and responsibilities.
“We need to be clear with our parents and students about what the expectation of privacy is,” she said.