Nov. 12, 2017 Tavares, FL
I just posted a video of a recent Nov. 8, 2017 bargaining session between the SEIU union and the Lake County, FL Administration HERE. They reached an impasse over wage increase requests for the fiscal year that is already in progress, so scheduled another meeting. But the video is illustrative of the process, and bargaining meetings for both unions at Lake Schools are posted on the School District calendar and are open to the public.
So here is my overview of the seemingly never ending bargaining process, with some conclusions.
The LCEA is for teachers and is affiliated with the National Education Association (NEA). They are also involved in separate bargaining sessions with the School District.
The SEIU is the Service Employees International Union, which is comprised of many workers like bus drivers, custodians, computer operators, mechanics, and other non-instructional employees.
Florida is a right to work state, thus the unions cannot go out on strike. Additionally, employees have to decide to join them, and there are rules about how many (in percent) must be members for the union to have negotiating rights. Thus not ALL non-instructional employees are SEIU members, but I am sure they are pressured to join.
Both unions negotiate / bargain with the School District Administration for agreed contracts specifying wages, benefits , work rules, etc. The most recent contracts are posted on the District website HERE.
I have attended most School Board meetings for the last 10+ years and some LCEA and SEIU union "bargaining sessions" in the past were contentious because the former administration was not open and even the CFO would hide reserves in the "books" so they unions did not know what funds were available. Both unions are affiliated with national unions known to favor extremist Antifa and other groups, but the locals HERE don't seem to be involved in the more radical union movements in other states. That is a good thing.
At a School District meeting earlier this year, Supt. Kornegay had an experienced consultant analyze their funding issues, and he said that under Moxley and prior boards, they had siphoned off (legally) about $20-million from capital spending accounts to pay for earlier salaries and benefits. Never forget that benefits for retirees are set by the state pension plans for all employees, and they just keep increasing without limits (in my opinion). Employees are not required to increase their contributions as much as increases paid by the District to the State pension plans. Thus we normal people or retirees might see a 1% increase in retirement pay, but you might see state retirement or retiree health insurance contributions increase by 7%. I saw one city where their fire and police increases were much larger, and the taxpayers may get hit for that full increase.
Another reason for capital funding shortages is that a wimpy prior School board agreed to WAIVE school impact fees for 2-4 earlier years after pressures from homebuilders. That should have never happened. The Board members did that (not all of them) when they should have fulfilled their responsibility first to schools to ensure adequate funding. That political decision to "cave" to homebuilders alone cost the School District to lose about $30-million in capital funding for new schools, major repairs, etc. However the current Board pressured the County Board 2-3 years ago to reinstate school impact fees at 100% so current funding is better, but still behind the needs for new construction. One result of these shortages is that instead of expanding overflowing schools, the District has had to redraw school boundaries and shift students to other schools that had more capacity. That angered many affected parents, especially when students were shifted from Minneola High to South Lake High.
This Nov. 8 bargaining session was the first I attended since the change of administration and hiring of Supt. Diane Kornegay. The process was more open, and the staff had earlier showed "the books" to the SEIU leaders to understand funding shortages which are real. The two sides are more cordial in light of knowing the funding restrictions faced by the School District.
At the same time, Supt. Kornegay is correctly holding the line to try and recover from lost capital funding, which is why ancient schools have roof leaks, have failing air conditioning, have no sidewalks, etc. The old process of draining capital funds to pay wages is no longer practiced (I believe).
Thus SEIU is looking at possibly no wage increases, or possibly some "step" increases but no other increases. That is still being discussed even though the new fiscal year has already started.
Generally, it seems there is no Florida mandate to agree on contracts before a new fiscal year starts, so it seems every year discussions drag on into the new fiscal year for months, and then any new increases may be paid retroactively to the start of the fiscal year. This uncertainty certainly hampers District planning, and employee planning since agreements are still pending.
If you search on SEIU on the Daily Commercial website, you will find more earlier articles about bargaining disputes.
- Funding for the school district is mostly out of the control of the Board. The state sets payments per student to the school district, and Lake County is near the bottom in percent received back from tax funds received by the state from local property owners.
- Shifting funds from capital fund accounts to pay for salaries is not the answer, and is fiscally insane. It results in unmaintained, unhealthy schools and constant shifting of students to other schools due to lack of funds to expand growing schools. Another result is use of portable classrooms which don't last and contrary to common opinion, are very expensive to move.
- One answer is to require higher contributions from employees for State mandated pension and benefits rather than expect the taxpayer and District to absorb never ending increases in those expenses. Or, find a way to REDUCE excessive benefits, health insurance costs, etc. Corporations would not absorb such high increases.
- This is a state with no income tax, thus wage levels, cost of living, etc can't be compared to most states that have that revenue source. Thus most school funding comes from the state and local property taxes, and some sales tax revenue.
- Lake County is a lower cost County. Wages here are compared to bigger cities and they should not be compared without showing direct differences in local cost of living. I constantly hear how other counties pay more. Well, they have higher taxes, higher property valuations, cost of living etc. and I never see those differences used to adjust their wages for true comparisons to Lake County.
- The Florida legislature favors growth in alternative education such as charter schools, so funds are being shifted to them. New laws allow new charter schools to be funded if public schools rank poorly. However, legislature can't mandate parents teach kids to study, or ensure School districts are able to change Common Core standards (relabeled as Florida Standards) to remove curriculums that aggravate many parents. That probably won't change for 2-3 years until Legislature leadership changes. Wait for Charlie Crist. Reduce state influence on funds available to County school districts and their mandates for school standards.
- The SEIU employees in Lake County are lower paid than many other counties, and my sympathies are with them because they are the victims of all the funding restrictions that exist. Compare that to adjunct faculty at Lake Sumter State College. They are in the same position, also with low salaries and no benefits. Perhaps what the service workers need is a mediator to facilitate the issues rather than an advocate system like exists now. But, that won't correct the imbalance of funding, and the legislature should be the target of initiatives to obtain more state funding, along with efficiency initiatives.