SJC school board votes down teachers' union contract demands

St. Johns County teachers' pay debated at school board meeting

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – All five members of the St. Johns County school board sided Thursday night with Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner, voting to reject certain demands by teachers in their latest contract, which included getting more money and better job security.

It was the first time St. Johns County had ever had an impasse between the school district and teachers.

"After a decade of arbitrary federal and state legislation that has done nothing but drag the teachers down, we felt you had our backs. And that is no longer how we feel," said Kate Dowdie, vice president of the St. Johns Education Association.

At least a hundred teachers showed up at Thursday night's school board meeting at the district headquarters in St. Augustine. Earlier this week, many teachers had been protesting and waving signs along the main roads in the city.

"Teachers aren't asking for second homes or fancy cars. They're asking for their child to play t-ball or get braces," said a teacher, who wished to remain anonymous. "Many annual-contract teachers struggle with the decision to buy a home or car because the district won't agree to give them earned and well-deserved job security."

Every school board member said it was a difficult decision, but none of the them said they could go along with what the teachers' union was asking for and sided with the superintendent.

The school board had to tell teachers it simply didn't have enough money to pay for everything the teachers were asking for. 

"Right now, we just don't have it. I do think those are things that we can look at as we keep going further. But without having that today, it would be completely irresponsible for me not to support the superintendent's position," said Kelly Barrera, school board member. 

Sally Cunningham, chief negotiator for St. Johns Education Association, said the teachers' union was pushing for three primary outcomes:

  • Associate teachers to be paid a wage commensurate with their job responsibilities.
  • Teachers with advanced degrees to receive more pay based on the degrees.
  • Guarantee that teachers retain their jobs the following year if they perform as they're expected to during the school year.
  • The school board voted down all three items. The board said it couldn't go along with the first two demands because they were money-based and could send the school district into bankruptcy.

    To get the money teachers want, the school board said it will need to get it from Tallahassee.

    "As a matter of fact, I care about the amount of money I pay my employees. And I tell them over and often, over and over again, 'I wish I could pay you what you're worth. But I can't. If I tried, I would have to close my doors," said Tommy Allen, school board member.

    The board would not go along with the third demand either, saying sometimes teachers just don't work in every classroom and the district needs the right to move people as it sees fit.

    Joyner also voiced that the district didn't have money for all of those issues. 

    He also took note with the independent magistrate who said bias and favoritism on the part of the administrators were factors in siding with the teachers. The two sides had previously met and hit an impasse, which is when they went to the third-party magistrate, who felt that the teachers should get what they were asking for.

    "This is the most insulting thing I've ever read in my life about me and our principals and every administrator in this district. I'm so offended about his assumption. Not one ounce of bias was ever presented to the magistrate," Joyner said.

    Cunningham spoke with News4Jax after the vote.

    "We get countless phone calls from teachers. Their work environment is difficult because language and their working conditions are bad and the morale is low. And I think this will only continue to make that low," Cunningham said. 

    The contract will now go into effect without the teachers' demands after the school board vote.

    Negotiations for next year's contract will soon be underway. 

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