By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo
Smarting from criticism, the Broward public schools administration and the teachers union have returned to the bargaining table to hammer out a contract and salvage $52 million in state and federal money.
“We’ll see if we can get on the same page,” Pat Santeramo, Broward Teachers Union President said. “We are willing to cooperate.”
Hostilities among the negotiating parties have mounted for years while both sides have sustained blows that raised doubts about competence.
Talks resumed last week after being on hold since late April. In May, the district had declared an impasse in negotiations.
Agreements between the union and the district on the federal and state funds “should have happened a long time ago,” community activist and watchdog Charlotte Greenbarg said. “This is a lot of money. Both sides have to realize there’s a financial emergency, due, in part, to self-inflicted wounds.”
A statewide grand jury in February criticized the management and operations of the School Board and administration. Meanwhile, the political website BrowardBeat.com reported last week that the BTU has agreed to let its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, review a $1.3 million drop in local union funds and assets. The declines, attributed to declining membership, had brought grumbles from BTU board members about their own management team.
The union hopes to smooth relations internally and with the school administration, while seeking to tap $31 million in federal “Race to the Top” incentive dollars awarded for teacher performance and another $21 million in state grants. The union and the district must agree on how that money will be apportioned.
That federal money “is a key component” in reopening talks because “it’s money for salaries,” Santeramo said. It is likely also the only source for new salary funds given the poor economy and the state’s cut in education funding during the past five years.
The union’s declining revenues, a history of bleak contract talks and the grab for outside money paint the backdrop to what’s now happening, although Santeramo said they were not directly related.
Santeramo said the drop in BTU funds stems from dues hikes imposed on local affiliates by the AFT. He said money to the state and national bodies went up without increases to local membership fees to cover the additional expenses.
He added there had been no misappropriation of BTU funds
“I told the AFT we have nothing to hide,” said Santeramo, adding the BTU has reduced staff salaries, including his own four field representatives were laid off.
According to district records, the BTU had 16,668 teachers and other members as of March 31. About 2,500 eligible workers have not joined the union or paid dues. According BrowardBeat.com, the union’s net assets dropped $1.3 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010 – from $5 million to $3.7 million amid declining membership.
Interim Superintendent Donnie Carter, who took over after Jim Notter’s June 30 retirement, did not respond to requests for comment.
Broward, the sixth largest school district in the nation, is behind Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the nation, in dealing with its teachers. Miami-Dade reached an agreement in May with the United Teachers of Dade on local Race to the Top performance pay – and teachers there are not facing layoffs. Palm Beach managed a $500 raise and voters approved an additional property tax for salaries for arts teachers.
In comparison, Broward teachers, who have been without a pay raise for three years, are faced with the prospect of about 1,800 layoffs. The teachers are among 2,400 employees targeted for layoff as part of the district’s effort to cut $171 million from its projected $2.9 billion budget for 2011-2012.
Broward’s application for federal Race to the Top performance pay is pending before the state; it has until Sept. 30 to reach agreement with the BTU on a plan that could bring $29.7 million in performance pay to teachers over the upcoming three years. The district received $6 million from the state for planning.
The state has earmarked an additional $21 million in grants to pay Broward teachers working at low performing school, for development of a merit evaluation plan that mirrors provisions of the Race to the Top and for classroom technology. The grants require union agreement.
Broward’s chances for completing agreements on the federal and state funding programs dimmed when the district declared an impasse in negotiations in May, especially because of the hostility between Santeramo and then superintendent Notter.
But with Notter’s retirement, the door reopened to talks.
Santeramo said he contacted school board members and interim superintendent Carter about working to get a deal on the labor contract that would include agreements on Race to the Top and the state grants.
Holding back on the Race to the Top agreement was a “bargaining chip” in order to get a new labor agreement, Santeramo said. The district, he added, now wants agreement on both to remain competitive with Miami-Dade and Palm Beach
At the resumption of bargaining last Thursday, newly formed bargaining teams for both sides reviewed the status of bargaining proposals, and agreed to narrow the issues in dispute at upcoming sessions, 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 and 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2.
Activist Greenbarg noted it will take a lot more than agreements on a labor contract and the federal and state funds to repair the district’s damaged image. But, she added,”it won’t hurt” if they reach accord.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
With more students expected to enroll in charter schools this coming year and millions of dollars at stake, Broward and Miami-Dade public schools officials are seeking to stem the flow of students by promoting specials schools and programs.
For the second year in a row more than 7,000 additional students are expected to enter Broward and Miami-Dade charter schools in a few months, siphoning off $40-$50 million in state money from Florida’s two largest school districts.
Now seeing themselves in active competition with charters schools, both districts are fighting back to keep students and the dollars they represent.
Merrie Meyers, Director of the Broward district’s Parents, Business and Community Partnership Program, said the district has asked principals to conduct programs that highlight the quality of Broward public schools.
Meyers said parents who have been pleased with the education their children have been asked to help promote district-run schools to parents of incoming students – particularly those entering middle or high school.
The district, Meyers said, also has expanded special programs within various schools, highlighting science, technology and other studies, as well as created regional and countywide magnet schools and programs.
In addition, Meyers said, the district has pointed out the experience and advanced degree work of teachers and awards won by students.
Miami-Dade’s new programs
In Miami-Dade, the district has created additional countywide magnet schools, special programs or academies at existing schools, expanded the number of K-8 schools favored by parents, and established a virtual school in downtown.
In addition, it has allowed some 15,000 students to attend schools where their parents work or near their parents’ workplace. One school, Ada Merritt K-8, has no boundaries; it’s a school for students of parents working in the downtown area.
“We have a great deal of diversity,” said Richard Hinds, Miami-Dade Public Schools Associate Superintendent/Chief Financial Officer.
Both school districts made considerable gains last year in statewide testing. And both districts are among five finalists for the annual, national Broad Prize, awarding the winner $500,000 in college scholarships for graduating 2012 high school seniors. The prize honors urban school districts making the greatest performance and improvement in student achievement while overcoming income and ethnic achievement issues.
Despite the initiatives by the two districts, charter school enrollments are expected to increase again in the coming year.
Charter schools are a hybrid of public and private schools. Although they are privately operated, they receive state money based on student population and operate with limited oversight by the public school districts. In Florida, state money follows the student to either traditional public schools or to charter schools.
“We’d like to see our students stay in our schools,” said Lee Black, of the Broward public schools budget office. “The money and expenses follow the students.”
This school year, 2010-2011, student enrollment in 68 charter schools in Broward totaled 23,274.
More students, more charter schools
Broward schools public information officer Marsy Smith said 14 additional charter schools are expected to be added in the upcoming school year, 2011-2012. They could increase enrollment by 1,874, to a total of 25,148, an 8 percent increase over the previous year. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $11 million in funding for the district.
However, the district’s budget department said that based on information provided by charter schools, Broward is budgeting for a total of 29,694 students, an increase of nearly 28 percent, Black said.
She observed, however, that in past years charter schools have over-estimated enrollment increases.
A more realistic increase, Black said, would be about 13 percent, the increase during the current school year. If that occurs, the enrollment spike for 2011-2012 would be 3,026, to a total of 26,300 students. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $18 million in funding for the district.
“You plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Black said.
In Miami-Dade, enrollment this school year in 92 charter schools was 35,306. With 12 additional charter schools expected to open for 2011-2012, the district is bracing and budgeting for 5,350 additional students in charter school, to a total of 40,656, a 15 percent increase – the same percentage hike for the current school year. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $30 million in funding for the district.
While the district would lose considerable funds if an additional 5,350 students attend charters in the coming year, Hinds said the district does not incur expenses for teachers and other employees. He also said, the overall loss of funds to the district annually based on charter school student enrollment is “over $200 million” and any additional students adds to that figure.
The anticipated enrollment increases in the two counties comes as the Florida Legislature has eased regulations for establishing new charter schools and expanding existing ones.
The Charter School program was enacted in 1996 by state statute and gives parents and students an alternative to public schools. The tuition free schools are created through an agreement between the schools and the district school boards. State funds are funneled to charter schools through the district school boards.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Residents of a quiet Hallandale Beach neighborhood are battling to prevent a 450-student, Kindergarten-8th grade charter school from opening in their midst.
More than 100 residents have signed a petition urging city commissioners to reject a special permit to allow the school to open at the Beth Tefilah Synagogue/Hallandale Jewish Center, 416 N.E. Eighth Ave.
The existing 22,484-square foot, two-story building on 1.9 acres has primarily operated as a synagogue in the past. While there was never a school on the site, the Ben Gamla Charter School, whose chief proponents include former U.S. Congressman Peter Deutsch, hope to open another Ben Gamla Charter School on the site.
The property was acquired for $500,000 several years ago by the Hallandale School LLC, a group supporting expansion of Ben Gamla. Ben Gamla already has an elementary school and middle school in Hollywood, as well as a K-8 school in Sunrise. Charter schools receive state funding equal to that of public schools – currently around $6,800 per student.
According to a spokesperson for Broward Schools, 576 children are enrolled at the two Hollywood Ben Gamla charter schools. Another 196 attend the Sunrise school. The schools collectively receive about $5 million a year in public money, based on the state’s formula meant to support charter schools.
The Hallandale Beach fray is yet another South Florida struggle between nearby residents who want to protect the character of their surroundings from private and charter schools seeking to open or expand in their neighborhood.
A four-year standoff
The Hallandale standoff has been going on for nearly four years, with the matter being deferred several times just as it was about to be decided by the city commission. The most recent delayed occurred recently when representatives of the school and city agreed to pull the item from the Hallandale City Commission’s May 18 agenda amid continuing negotiations.
Mayor Joy Cooper said she is working on a resolution on the matter, but declined to say what that might be. Several residents said they were hopeful the city is looking to buy the property for city uses rather than allowing the school to open.
“This is the wrong location for the school,” said Cynthia Cabrera, one of those spearheading the effort against the school. “The neighborhood is not able to handle the additional traffic.”
The traffic flow of the many cars bringing students along narrow two-lane streets would alter its quiet character, said Etty Sims, who lives in the neighborhood. Sims sits on the city’s Education Advisory Committee, a board that opposes the school’s request.
Cabrera and Sims both said the city has a diverse population and that the Hebrew-oriented school would only serve a small number of students in the city, and that most pupils would come from outside the city.
Referring to Deutsch, who represented Broward County in Congress for 1993 to 2005, Cabrera said, “This is about one guy who wants his way.”
Said Sims, “It’s a good deal for him, but it’s not a good deal for the neighborhood.”
Cabrera said most of those speaking in support of the school at community meetings were not from the immediate neighborhood.
Deutsch disagreed with those assessments.
School a benefit to community?
The school would “absolutely be a benefit to the community,” he said, adding that at community meetings more speakers spoke in support of the school than against it.
Deutsch said a city-hired consultant, whose fee in accordance with city law was paid by the school, said new traffic to be generated by the school was within the city’s criteria for the project.
Deutsch said the school has pledged that students living in the city who want to attend the school would have preference over others seeking admission. He said he expected many of the school’s student would live within city limits, including the neighborhood.
“A well run charter school,” Deutsch said, “has the ability to transform a neighborhood.”
In recent months, expansion of private and charter schools has riled some neighborhoods. In Miami-Dade County, Coral Gables residents objected to the expansion of Somerset Academy charter school from 110 students to 735 students in space leased at University Baptist Church. Palmetto Bay residents objected to plans by the Palmer Trinity private school to expand from 600 students to 900-1,400 students
Ben Gamla stirred public debate about the separation of church and state before it opened in Hollywood in August, 2007. Critics voiced concerns about public money being spent to promote the teaching of religion.
But the Broward School Board ultimately allowed the school to open, saying its dual-language curriculum complied with state requirements.
According to published reports, Ben Gamla’s backers have said the schools have nonreligious settings that are an alternative to the privately run Hebrew day schools whose tuition often runs well over $10,000. Ben Gamla charter schools are free to students because of the state funding directed through local school boards. The schools teach Hebrew in a “cultural context,” there is no praying in the schools and students can’t be required to wear yarmulkes, according to past published reports.
While charter schools are open to all students, school officials have estimated that 85 percent of the students attending Ben Gamla schools are Jewish.
A drawn out battle
The battle over the Hallandale Ben Gamla charter school has been long and “exhausting” on the neighborhood, Cabrera said. She referred to the many times the school has changed it plans.
The school’s first zoning application in June, 2007 called for 200 students in grades K-8. It won Planning and Zoning Board approval but was withdrawn by the school before it got to the city commission for a final vote.
The school’s second application in January, 2009 requested a K-12 charter school for 800 students; it was reduced to 600 students after several community meetings. The city’s Educational Advisory Committee recommended against the request; the application was withdrawn by the school prior to a vote by the Planning and Zoning Board on May 26, 2010.
The current application was filed in June 2010, requesting permission to have a charter school for 600 students in grades K-12. After a community meeting, the school reduced the request to 450 students in grades K-8.
In March, 2011, the Hallandale zoning board recommended approval of the Ben Gamla charter school but made 18 recommendations that had to be met by the school. The recommendations have been sent to the City Commission.
They include requirements for additional landscaping and compliance with safety and building codes, the establishment and hours of operation and a provision that the existing synagogue assembly may not operate at the same time as the school. The board also recommended the school only be allowed to enroll up to 300 students for the first two years and increase to 450 afterwards if all conditions of the school approval are met.
In addition, the board said the city manager should be given the authority to seek the commission’s approval to modify or revoke the school’s operating permit if he determines the school adversely affects health, safety, public welfare or property in the neighborhood.
Unhappy nearby residents remain wary.
“It’s been a constant drain on the neighborhood,” Cabrera said. “This has been going on since 2007.”
She said residents have been outgunned by the school’s lawyers as the matter has dragged on. “This is a middle class neighborhood of working people; we can’t afford to hire an attorney,” Cabrera said. “We have to be constantly vigilant.”
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Faced with continued financial problems, Miami-Dade public school officials are recommending the layoff of more than 200 employees directly involved or in support of construction and maintenance operations.
Citing a drastic reduction in funding for capital projects and the need to balance the 2011-2012 budget, Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho outlined a reorganization and reduction-in-force plan in an agenda item that the Miami-Dade School Board will consider Wednesday.
Broward Schools, faced with a possible restructuring its construction department in the wake of a scathing critique by the Statewide Grand Jury, could seek similar cuts.
The proposed Miami-Dade job reductions — and other major actions — are:
- 60 employees, some of them project managers, represented by the Dade County School Administrators’ Association (DCSAA), a union of professional and technical employees; many work in facilities and maintenance as supervisors. Some of the layoffs will be phased as capital projects are completed.
- 23 higher paid secretarial employees in a grouping referred to as Confidential Exempt.
- 280 computer technicians and specialists represented by the Dade County School Maintenance Employee Committee (DCSMEC), a union of skilled trades employees. Approximately 200 will be rehired as temporary employees.
- 48 non-instructional employees performing office work in various district offices, represented by the United Teachers of Dade.
- Four administrative employees in a grouping referred to as Managerial Exempt Personnel.
- A $5 million giveback, for one year, of compensation previously negotiated by DCSMEC in lieu of layoffs.
- Downsizing of the capital construction force, to include the elimination of some job groups and the lowering of job pay grades.
The overall impact of the savings is about $27 million, according to the memo from Carvalho’s office.
”The District reorganization is being proposed at this time to help balance the 2011-2012 budget, and to continue to improve efficiencies,” the memo said.
“Quite frankly, it’s unconscionable,” said maintenance union executive director Charles Burdeen. “I’m convinced this is union-busting.”
Burdeen said it makes no sense to lay-off any of his employees when so much pending work still has to be done in capital and maintenance. “These people are ignoring reality.”
“The district has $1.8 billion in deferred maintenance, that’s a disaster,” he said.
The district has under enrolled schools, Burdeen said, yet is spending more than $20 million for a new high school in Coral Gables and more than $12 million to acquire and remodel the old Homestead Hospital for a medical arts high school. In addition, Burdeen said the district has spent millions to retrofit the downtown district annex building for a virtual high school and an elementary school.
But Jaime Torrens, the district’s chief facilities officer, said Burdeen is missing the point of the cuts.
“The issue is funding,” he said. “We have no choice. There are not sufficient funds to maintain the current workforce.”
As for the two new high school projects, Torrens said they were acted on when funding was available and students are now seeking to get into the schools. He said the maintenance at the schools in the annex costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, not millions as Burdeen suggested.
Miami-Dade is not alone in troubles with school construction.
The Broward School Board was roundly criticized by the statewide grand jury for shoddy construction and mismanagement at its Facilities and Construction Management Department was run.
At a meeting last week, the board asked outgoing Superintendent of Schools Jim Notter and his staff to look at restructuring the department. One board member suggested privatizing its functions and jobs.
Notter and Thomas Lindner, Acting Deputy Superintendent Facilities and Construction Management, could not be reached for comment.
Notter, slapped by the grand jury for failing to exert leadership, departs June 30. He announced his resignation in the wake of the grand jury report.
His recommendations on dealing with the matter could last only until a new superintendent takes office, when more changes are likely.
In Miami-Dade, Joe Cortese, a maintenance union official, said district officials came to the union seeking a solution in order to avoid layoffs. The $5 million compensation adjustment will come from employees who resign or retire, or who agree to take 80 percent of their salary for one year in lieu of layoff, he said.
The computer technicians and specialists only recently joined the maintenance union after successfully withdrawing from another union. During an unrepresented interval period, these employees had their work year reduced.
Cortese said that about 200 of the the 280 techs and specialists who would be laid off would also be reemployed temporarily at an annual salary of about $43,000 annually, plus full benefits. Their jobs would become permanent in three years, Cortese said.
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
While public employees battle to maintain collective bargaining rights and benefits in many states, including Florida, teachers unions in the state’s two largest school districts want pay increases this year and next.
Broward and Miami-Dade teachers’ unions are pursuing salary proposals costing more than $148 million even as Gov. Rick Scott called for $3.3 billion in education cuts statewide for next year.
The key funding sources, which pay public school districts approximately $6,800 per pupil, are state funds and collections from local property taxes. The state, however, sets limits on how much money districts can collect in property taxes for general operating expenses, such as salaries.
While union officials say pay hikes are warranted, officials for the two public school districts say they don’t have the money to pay for the proposals because of current and future funding limitations.
“The governor’s budget has a reduction for Broward Schools of $205 million for 2011-12,” said Jane Turner, Budget Director, Broward public schools. “As such, there are not funds set aside for employee increases.”
The Broward district, however, did absorb a 4.5 percent health insurance increase during 2011 for employee only coverage, costing about $6 million.
The two South Florida public school districts are among the nation’s largest.
Broward, sixth largest with approximately 257,000 students and a budget of $3.3 billion, has more than 36,000 employees, including 15,700 instructional personnel. Miami-Dade, fourth largest with approximately 347,000 students and a budget of $4.3 billion, has a total of more than 45,000 employees, including about 22,500 instructional personnel.
Despite the economic tough times facing the Broward school district this year and next year, Dane Ramson, chief negotiator for the BTU, said the pay hike request “is more than reasonable for past and present” services by teachers.
“It’s time to show people they are valued,” Ramson said, adding teachers haven’t had a pay increase for two years. “The teachers are maintaining the high academic standards.”
Details of Broward talks
In its latest salary proposal made late February, the Broward Teachers Union (BTU) asked for a step increase effective January 2011 for the 2010-2011 school year, and another step increase effective June 30, 2011 for the 2011-2012 school year. Those on the top step would receive $500 for each year for a total of $1,000.
The approximate cost: $34 million to $36 million.
The BTU proposal for a step increase retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011 amounts to a half-step increase for the year, with the cost around $8 million. Full year funding for this step, which would begin next school year, would cost about $16 million.
The second step being sought for next year would cost approximately $16 million to $18 million. The two-year cost would be around $34 million-$36 million, the union said.
“There is enough money there for” the first step costing around $8 million, Pat Santeramo, BTU president said. “It’s justified,” he said of the step increase for this year. “Teachers did not go into the professions for money. They got into it for the love of teaching and imparting knowledge.”
“It’s hard to swallow no pay increases” for several years, Santeramo added.
Santeramo said the union would act on the one step increase for the current year and would be willing to discuss the second step later, taking into consideration the district’s funding situation at that time.
The BTU, Ramson added, has offered district officials many suggestions on ways to save money that could go toward raises for employees.
Unclear, however, is whether the district had a salary proposal on the table. A district official who asked not to be quoted said the district had an offer on the table: 1 percent of salary in the form of a non-recurring bonus. However, Ramson said the district brought up the issue at the Feb. 17 bargaining session, but withdrew it the following meeting. “They back-pedaled,” she added.
A summary of the minutes, as written by the district, states that “the district said that it was willing to put $4 million” toward bonuses, but does not clearly state that this was put into a proposal. There was no written proposal regarding the bonus on the district’s web page.
Details of Miami-Dade talks
The United Teachers of Dade, representing teachers, office employees and other school-based staff, is asking for a two-step increase retroactive to the first day of the 2010-2011 work year. Employees on the top step would receive a $1,500 hike for each salary movement, a total of $3,000.
The approximate cost: $109 million.
Miami-Dade public schools had made a 1 percent non-recurring bonus offer to the teachers union for 2010-2011 but it was withdrawn when Gov. Scott announced the education funding cut for next year. “We don’t have the money this year,” said Richard Hinds, Associate Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer for Miami-Dade schools.
Hinds said the UTD’s proposal involves continuing costs, and in light of the Gov. Scott’s budget, “it would be irresponsible to entertain recurring costs.” He said the district can’t afford salary increase this year and “next year we will have even less money.”
In negotiations, Miami-Dade agreed to pay for a 7.9 percent insurance cost increase for calendar year 2011, costing about $24 million for all employees, $18 million attributed to UTD unit members.
The Miami-Dade district has a contingency fund of $100 million, representing 3 percent of its operating budget; state law requires 2 percent, Hinds said.
UTD President Karen Aronowitz said the union “understands what a terrible political climate we are in. But when legislators purposely cut funding to education and think it does no harm to children, then they are lying to the public.”
The union, Aronowitz said, is only seeking “what we were supposed to have earned, that were promised to us.”
The district successfully withheld negotiated pay increases for teachers during 2008-2009 when the financial crisis hit the state. UTD unit members received a step increase in December, 2009 for the 2009-2010 school year, costing the district approximately $38 million. The cost of the recurring increase for the full year, 2010-2011, was approximately $68 million.
A UTD official said the union told the district it was flexible on the number of steps and effective date for 2010-2011 salary increases, but talks broke down over the issue because the district did not want recurring costs. Declaring impasse in December 2010, the UTD and the district, later this month, will go before a special magistrate who will make a non-binding recommendation.
“This is trying to catch up so people can pay their bills,” Aronowitz said. “Just like when we signed a mortgage, we know what we intend to pay. Teachers rely on representations made to them as well. Maybe people can understand that.”
Aronowtiz said teachers are deserving of salary increases. “You pay people for their education, for their skill levels, for their position and for what they do: which is to educate our future and make our students competitive.”
That’s why, Aronowtiz said, the union pushed the issue to the impasse process. “We need to have resolution now” and move on, she added.
Next round of talks
The special magistrate hearing involving the UTD and the Miami-Dade school district will be held at 10 a.m., Tuesday, March 22, 2011, at the Law Center at Florida International University, South Campus.
Meanwhile, negotiators for the BTU and the Broward school district will resume negotiations, the 14th collective bargaining session, on Thursday, March 24, 2011 at the Atlantic Technical Center in Coconut Creek.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Millions more in state money is going to Miami-Dade and Broward charter schools as enrollment in the private schools increased by more than 7,000 students this school year, siphoning dollars from Florida’s two large public school districts.
“The district is concerned about the loss of students to charter schools,” said Jane Turner, Broward County Public Schools Budget Director. “There is a loss of revenue, no doubt about that.”
The same message can be heard in Miami-Dade County.
“It’s a big impact,” said Richard Hinds, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Associate Superintendent/Chief Financial Officer, said of the exodus. “It’s a considerable impact by the amount of loss revenue.”
The loss of the funds comes at a time when both districts are facing financial difficulties due to state funding reductions caused by the continuing economic downturn.
Last school year, 2009-2010, enrollment in charter schools in Broward was 20,602. Broward schools public information officer Marsy Smith said this school year enrollment in 68 charter schools increased by 2,672, to a total of 23,274, a nearly 13 percent boost.
In Miami-Dade, enrollment last year in charter schools was 30,806. This year enrollment in 92 charter schools spiked by 4,538 to a total of 35,344, a nearly 15 percent hike.
Charter school enrollment in the two districts (58,618) and 10,436 students attending private schools in Broward and Miami-Dade through the Florida Tax Credit program (see BrowardBulldog.org “Florida shifting more public education funds to private hands”), total 69,054 students for 2010-2011.
That number of charter school and FTC students in the two counties would theoretically make it the 11th largest school district in the state for the current year, according to Department of Education enrollment figures. The unofficial district would fall between Brevard (71,860) and Pasco (66,994).
The Charter School program was enacted by state statute and gave parents and students an alternative (choice) to public schools since 1996. The schools are tuition-free and created through an agreement between the schools and the local school boards. State funds are funneled to the schools through the local school districts.
Broward County Superintendent of Schools James Notter could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls to his office. A request through the district’s Public Information Office asked what Notter planned to persuade parents and students to stay in public schools rather than charters.
For Miami-Dade, the 4,538 additional students represent a loss of approximately $30 million for the district. For Broward, the 2,672 represents a loss of approximately $18 million. (Turner said the increase was actually 2,400, 277 less than the 2,672, the official number provided by the District’s Charter School Office.)
Miami-Dade’s charter school enrollment jump was larger than the district had anticipated – and it will receive less money from the state. The district had anticipated enrollment to 33,800 students in charter schools, but the number grew to 35,344.
At the Feb. 9 meeting, the School Board shifted $8.1 million to the charter schools to cover the increased enrollment and other payments. Hinds pointed out that the loss of funds was offset by the District needing to hire less teachers, so the total impact, he said, was $10 million.
Parents, Hinds said, are sending their children to charter schools for a variety of reason: they believe they are better and safer; some like the concept of unique schools with special programs, such as one school that basis it curriculum on ancient Greek-style education; and some don’t like where their home-based schools are located.
M-DCPS officials, therefore, are attempting to stop the loss students by expanding existing schools and offering special programs.
“We want to offer different approaches to different interests, which is what charters have been doing,” Hinds said. “Miami-Dade,” he added, “is not one community; it’s multiple communities. It’s like a mini-state.”
At the high school level, the District has created new schools and programs – the new medical arts school at the former Homestead Hospital, an international studies school in Coral Gables, and a virtual school in the District’s downtown annex fronting Biscayne Boulevard.
Helen Blanch, Assistant Superintendent, Schools of Choice, said the District is attempting to retain students at the elementary and middle school levels by expanding more elementary schools to K-8 centers.
Next year, 12 additional elementary schools will become K-8s; previous conversions have been popular with parents. In addition, special study programs will be proposed for seven middle schools and two high schools.
The charter school expansion, Blanch said, has grown “in areas where we did not keep up with construction,” in the south and west part of the county. While only seven new charter schools opened this year, raising the number to 92, Blanch said student enrollment also increased as some charter schools added additional grades each year.
“We are answering the call, looking at the most popular programs,” Blanch said. Time will tell how effective the effort will be against an ever-expanding charter school movement.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Florida's Capitol buildings
Florida has a long history of battles for collective bargaining rights for public employees going back to the late sixties and early seventies, some gained after workers – particularly in South Florida — staged work stoppages and strikes.
When the 2011 state legislative session opens Tuesday, a new chapter opens and Florida public employees face their greatest challenge in decades to preserve collective bargaining, job rights and benefits.
Florida legislators appear ready to push education and pension changes intended to help solve immediate and long term funding problems. Public employees and their organizations say many of those measures are anti-union.
The various House and Senate bills would establish performance pay for public school teachers for the first time, partially based on student performance.
Proposed laws would require future government employees to contribute to their pensions and prohibit unions from collecting dues that could be used for political activities. Public employee unions would face decertification if they can’t show they have members making up half of the workplace or job unit.
As some of the bills move along this legislative session, there will be no savior in the form of Gov. Charlie Crist who, in gearing up for his U.S. Senate campaign last year, vetoed such measures.
Newly sworn-in Gov. Rick Scott advocates education and benefits changes and has vowed to approve those coming before him. Scott also predicts a $4.6 billion budget shortfall for next year, and wants to make that up by cutting $3.3 billion from education.
While the current state measures are not quite as draconian as those being proposed in Wisconsin, they eat away at gains made by public employees.
The turmoil has comes as other states attempt to rollback rights and benefits of public employees. Along with Wisconsin, labor battles have surfaced in Ohio, New York, Tennessee and Indiana.
A national issue comes to Florida
The chill threatening public employee rights elsewhere in the nation can be felt in South Florida, too.
“This is an attempt to silence unions,” said Pat Santeramo, president of the Broward Teachers Union (BTU). “They have been working this out in advance in backrooms. The various bills will be on express to pass.”
Santeramo added, “(Legislators) think they know more about education than educators.”
Both Santeramo and Karen Aronowitz, president of the United Teachers of Dade (UTD), both say linking pay to teacher or student performance requires local school districts to come up with standardized tests that will cost millions, but does not provide funding.
“Who is going to pay for the tests?” Aronowitz said, “It’s unfunded.”
She said the performance pay bill will force districts to use firms to develop these tests and “the money will be going to test-developers, privateers.”
These measures, she added, will only help private schools.
Both Aronowitz and Santeramo call measures “union-busting” that restrict union dues and place more requirements for union certification.
The proposals, Aronowitz added “are being done under the guise of reform. It’s not democratic. They are making misery under the guise of teacher quality.”
If they pass, many of the measures, Aronowitz predicted, will not stand legal and constitutional challenges.
“They are trying to fill the deficit on the backs of teachers,” Santeramo said. “They are not adding to education, they are taking away.”
Florida has been down this road before
The fight over labor rights involves more than teachers. Officials must also deal with police, fire and other government workers. But teachers have led the state’s changes in labor laws.
In 1967, teachers were angered when then-Gov. Claude Kirk, the first Republican governor of Florida since reconstruction, vetoed a higher sales tax that would have provided more money for schools.
In August that year, 30,000 teachers protested at a rally in Orlando’s Tangerine Bowl. Teachers went on strike in Pinellas and Broward counties the following month.
A widespread strike followed in February 1968 when Gov. Kirk signed a measure to increase taxes that teachers said were too little. With Miami-Dade leading the way, the strike included more than 25,000 educators from two-thirds of the state’s school districts.
In some areas of the state, employees were out for as long as three months. Gov. Kirk and the legislature, however, refused to increase funding. To resolve the labor conflicts, local school districts negotiated separate agreements with teachers.
In 1968, the Florida Supreme ruled that the state’s newly written Constitution gave public employees the right to collective bargaining. Still the legislature was slow to move.
Eventually the state’s Public Employees Relations Act (PERA) was passed and implemented in 1974 that, among other measures, established collective bargaining rights in exchange for outlawing strikes and work stoppages.
Legislators say change is necessary
One legislator, Sen. Jeremy Ring, District 32, D-Margate, disagreed with South Florida union leaders as to the intent of bills (HB 1128 and HB 1130) he introduced to require new employees to contribute 2 percent of their salaries for retirement plans.
“The state faces a $4 billion shortfall and something has to be done to relieve the burden on present and future taxpayers,” Ring said. “We are concerned about the future and unfunded liabilities. Some cities are straining under pension obligations requiring 50 to 70 percent of their budgets.”
“The unions,” Ring said, “never feel they’re necessary (the proposed changes). But they got to recognize the need for reform. I think they will recognize these (his proposals) are the least objectionable.”
Ring said his proposals are “absolutely not” in the arena of union busting.
“This is reform; there is nothing political about our bills.”
He said, however, there are many other proposals being offered that may be more onerous to state employees.
Ring said Gov. Scott has called for the end of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, an employee-favored retirement savings program; his bill does not. Scott also wants employees to contribute 5 percent of their wages for pensions, not 2 percent as proposed by Ring. Scott also calls for an end to cost-of-living increases for retirees; Ring’s bill does not.
A laundry list of limits to labor rights
Proposed new limits on public labor in Florida are coming from many directions.
Rep.Erik Fresen, R-Miami, sponsor of HB 7019, and Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, sponsor of SB 736, links performance to teacher salaries.
The bills also allow for removal of a teacher without explanation or just cause and end continuing contracts; stipulate that only highly effective and effective teachers would receive pay increases, and permit removal of a teacher based on performance rather than seniority and for unsatisfactory performance.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, sponsor of SB 830, and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Heathrow, sponsor of HB 1021, prohibits unions from collecting union dues and dues for political activities unless an employee specifies in an authorization card.
Rep.Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, sponsor of House Bill 1023, and Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, sponsor of HB 1025, affects union recertification. The bills require a union to recertify itself with the state by July 1, 2011. Certification will be revoked if membership is less than 50 percent of the potential bargaining unit.
Other than Ring, legislators could not be reached regarding bills attached to their names. Steven Richardson, an aide to Wise, said the senator has such busy schedule that he would not have time to comment to the BrowardBulldog.
Either way, unions are bracing for a fight.
Miami-Dade’s Aronowitz said, “I think it’s going to be ugly and we expected that.”
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Officials of teachers’ unions in Broward and Miami-Dade are wary of a newly filed bill that establishes teachers pay based on performance and places limitations on tenure.
“We are opposed to performance pay because it does not work,” said John Ristow, Communications Director for the Broward Teachers Union. He added it would be another unfunded mandate for school districts. Ristow also questioned the bill’s provision regarding tenure, saying “that’s objectionable.”
The bill provides for one-year contracts for new teachers and stipulates that if a district has to choose which personnel to retain the primary consideration would be given to those teachers whose students made the greater learning gains. Generally, longevity is the prevailing consideration.
The state Legislature, Ristow said, should concentrate on adequately funding public education.
“We believe Florida needs to first address pay” for all teachers, as Florida is ranked 28 in the nation. “Address that and we are willing to discuss” performance pay, he added.
The BTU website labeled SB 736, filed in the Senate last week, “Son of SB 6,” referencing last year’s performance pay measure opposed by teachers across the state. It was vetoed by then Governor Charlie Crist after House and Senate approval.
“As it is, it is not acceptable,” Karen Aronowitz, President of the United Teachers of Dade, said of the bill introduced by Senator Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville and chairman of the Senate’s PreK-12 Education Committee.
Wise could not be reached for comment despite several calls to his office.
Aronowitz said state legislators should address “adequate base pay” for all teachers, instead. The Miami-Dade union chief said she is not pleased with the student performance measures in the bill, and she criticized a provision that calls for the hiring of new teachers under one-year annual contracts that can be terminated at the will of a local school board.
The two public school districts are amongst the largest in the nation. Dade, fourth largest with approximately 347,000 students and a budget of $4.3 billion, has a total of more than 45,000 employees, including about 22,500 instructional personnel. Broward, sixth largest with approximately 257,000 students and a budget of $3.3 billion, has more than 36,000 employees, including 15,870 instructional personnel.
The second coming of a performance pay proposal arrives as published reports indicate that newly elected Gov. Rick Scott supports an education-changing program that includes reforming tenure and adding merit or performance pay. Scott has enlisted former Washington D.C. public schools chief Michelle Rhee, a member of his Transition Team and currently his adviser on education matters.
Rhee was the center of an education storm in the nation’s capital when she backed measures to significantly raise teacher pay in exchange for ending tenure rights. She pushed through partial performance pay reforms and fired more than 200 underperforming teachers, according to published reports. She stepped down last year when her main supporter, Mayor Adrian Fenty, failed to be re-elected. During Rhee’s tenure, however, tests scores increased significantly in D.C. schools.
Martin Karp, a member of the School Board of Miami-Dade County, said he understands the concerns of the unions. And while he realizes that this year’s proposed state law less objectionable than last year’s he said he has concerns.
“I wonder if it will prevent us from focusing on other issues,” Karp said.
He mentioned meeting requirements of the class size amendment; how to improve science education after reports the nation is behind other countries; and handling requirements that are unfunded.
“I think there are many unknowns” involving SB 736, he added. Karp said the bill would also create two different groups of teacher, those hired before and after the implementation period three years from now. “There will be two classes,” he added.
Maureen Dinnen, a former teacher and member of the Broward School Board since 2004, said while there are some improvements in the current bill compared to last year’s version (it adds some credit for advanced degrees), she has numerous concerns.
Foremost, she said, is the impact of the proposal on teachers. “What bothers is that teachers think” they are being targeted by the bill and “all the blame is on them” for perceived shortcomings, even though that was “not the intent of the lawmakers,” Dinnen said. Some teachers, she added, “would say this is another attack. Their morale is already low with budget cuts” resulting in no pay increases for several years, she said.
Dinnen said she is concerned about the bill not recognizing a teacher’s experience and “that bothers me.” She added, “I personally support seniority rules.” The Broward board member said she has issues with the bill’s evaluation provisions and that they will be state-directed rather than determined by the local district.
Dinnen said the bill would also allow a school district to dismiss a teacher any time during an annual contract, but if a teacher leaves without being released by the district he will be reported to the state’s Education Practices Committee. This would stay on the teacher’s record when seeking future employment opportunities, she added. “That gives me pause” because it seems unfair, Dinnen said.
Under the bill, only “effective” teachers will be entitled to pay increases. It differs from last year’s proposal that would have permitted pay increases based primarily on student performance on standardized tests.
The new bill allows for other factors to be taken into consideration in a teacher’s performance evaluation.
The bill establishes four levels of teacher performance: Highly Effective; Effective; Needs Improvements; and Unsatisfactory. Results of student test scores count for 50 percent of a classroom teacher’s evaluation and 30 percent for non-classroom teachers. The tests may include state and nationally recognized exams, industry-certified tests and district-developed or selected end-of-course assessments.
Other factors in the evaluation, to be outlined by the state Commissioner of Education by June, 2011, may include a student’s prior performance, student attendance, student disciplinary record, student disabilities, and student English language proficiency.
The bill stipulates that during an annual contract, dismissal for just cause includes two consecutive annual performance ratings of “unsatisfactory,” as well as immorality, misconduct in office, incompetency, gross insubordination, willful neglect of duty, or being convicted or found guilty of, or entering a plea of guilty to, regardless of adjudication of guilt, any crime involving moral turpitude.
By July 1, 2014, school districts shall adopt a performance salary schedule based on provisions of the bill and employees hired on or after that date shall be compensated on that schedule. Employees hired prior to that date shall remain on previous salary schedules, which shall be grandfathered. However, the bill allows teachers hired before the effective date to switch from their current salary schedule to the performance pay plan.
For a teacher rated “highly effective” under the bill, the pay increase must be greater than the highest salary adjustment for any employee on any other related salary schedule. The highest step increment on the United Teachers of Dade salary schedule is $10,000.
For a teacher rated “effective” under the bill, the pay increase shall be at least 50 percent but no higher than 75 percent of the increase given to a “highly effective” teacher.
These increases, according to the bill, would become a permanent part of the employee’s annual salary.
The bill also calls for additional compensation for teachers at Title I schools comprised of low income students, for teachers in critical shortage areas, and for those taking on additional academic responsibilities.
Despite the concerns of union officials, a companion bill is expected to be introduced in the House soon.
Marchers rally support for scholarship program in Tallahassee on March 24
By Willian Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Millions more in state money appears to be headed to private education in what local educators say is a cost to public schools through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
The scholar program has redirected state education dollars to low-income families, who mostly use the voucher scholarship credits at private schools.
Broward public schools face the loss of 430 students and nearly $3 million; Miami-Dade about 1,500 students and $10 million. Federal Title I money would also be eroded to support the education of low income students.
Statewide, the program is expected to grow by 6,000 students. The state gives dollars to the public schools based on attendance.
The likely loss of funds and students comes at a time when both districts are under financial stress due to limited state funding caused by the downturn in the economy during the past four years; state funding is expected to be cut next school year. The expansion of the FTC program, therefore, adds to the financial difficulties of the two school districts.
“There is a significant amount of money going away from public schools,” said Jane Turner, Broward County Public Schools Budget Director. She oversees a budget of $3.3 billion serving 232,000 students.
Miami-Dade has 347,000 students and a budget of $4.3 billion. The public school systems are among the largest in the nation.
Turner said the loss to Broward would be “huge.”
“This is a continuous thing that’s happening,” Turner said. “There is a significant amount of money going away from public schools.”
Miami-Dade officials were more cautious.
Richard Hinds, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Associate Superintendent/Chief Financial Officer, said he’s not certain that private schools in Miami-Dade have space for additional Florida Tax Credit scholarship students.
While about 25 percent of the 32,320 scholarship students statewide are in Miami-Dade, Hinds said it remains to be seen if that percentage continues when the program expands.
“I will not speculate,” he said. However, Hinds said the high number of Miami-Dade students on Florida Tax Credit scholarships “does drain public schools.”
The Florida Tax Credit
The program began in 2002 as the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program. It allows corporations doing business in Florida, or with Florida, to designate a portion of their Florida tax obligations to be earmarked for the program and to receive a dollar for dollar credit. In 2009, the “corporate” reference was dropped when other possible funding sources were added.
Last year, after about 5,000 students, parents and others rallied in Tallahassee in support of expanding the program, the state legislature raised the funding cap from $118 million to $140 million and allowed for automatic expansion if contributions increased. Last month, the Florida Department of Revenue announced that contributions in the current school year, 2010-2011, had exceeded 90 percent of the new $140 million cap and this would allow for a 25 percent increase in the Florida Tax Credit funding cap. This raised the total, in accordance with state law, to $175 million for the 2011-2012 school year.
The scholarship money is for students whose family household income level falls within the federal guidelines for the federal free and reduced lunch program. Eighty-four percent (84 percent) of the students receiving tax-credit scholarships attend religious/faith-based schools, according to state Department of Education data. The vast majority of the students (88.7 percent) attend grades K-8.
Although the program expansion worried public school officials, it was welcomed by the Tampa/Jacksonville non-profit scholarship funding group that raises, receives and distributes nearly 96 percent of the tax credit funds to schools accepting program students.
Jon East is the policy and public affairs director for Step Up for Students, which operates the scholarship program. He said that if next year’s funding threshold of $175 million is reached next year, it would allow approximately 6,000 additional students to apply for the scholarship funds.
More students, more dollars
The most recent Department of Education Florida School Choice Quarterly Report, November, 2010, says that 32,320 students in 1,073 schools in 60 counties use scholarships. Of that, 8,111 students, or 25.1 percent, were in 185 Miami-Dade schools and 2,325 students, or 7.2 percent, were in 86 Broward schools.
About 39,000 students would use scholarships next year if projections hold up. Miami-Dade Public Schools would have 1,506 fewer students – meaning the District would lose about $10.24 million in funding. Broward Public Schools, with about 432 fewer students, would lose about $2.94 million.
At present, state funding per pupil in public schools is approximately $6,800.
The Florida Tax Credit current enrollment is nearly three times that of five years ago. According to the Department of Education enrollment in the program in October, 2005, totaled 12,241 students, with 652, 5.3 percent, in Broward and 2,564, 20.9 percent, in Miami-Dade.
“We are experiencing growth,” East said
The program’s existence and expansion is based on corporations and other funding sources voluntarily earmarking some of their Florida tax obligations for the scholarships in lieu of the funds going to various other state coffers. Aside from state corporate taxes, other revenue sources now include insurance company premium taxes; severance taxes on oil and gas production; certain sales tax liabilities; and alcohol beverage taxes on beer, wine and spirits.
Under the law, Florida does not receive the funds; they are sent to the scholarship support organization.
In 2009, some of the corporate contributors to the fund, according to the Step Up for Students website, include ABC Liquors, Bankers Insurance Group; BJ’s Wholesale Club; Burger King; Marriott International; Lowe’s; Preferred Care Partners; Phillip Morris USA; Sysco Food Services (Central Florida, South Florida, Jacksonville, West Coast); Urban Outfitters; Walgreen; CVS; Verizon; AT&T; Waste Management.
East said he is confident that the $175 million level of contributions can be reached so that additional students can be served.
There are approximately 7,000 students on waiting lists for the tax credit scholarships, East said. He did not have information on how many of those were in Miami-Dade and Broward. And while he did not have information on the space availability in private schools in the two counties, East said he hasn’t heard there is a lack of space at Broward and Miami-Dade private schools.
East said students who accept a corporate scholarship receive an education at a much lower cost. At present, the yearly tax credit scholarship stipend is limited to $4,106 per student, or the cost of the private school tuition, whichever is less. The tax credit stipend is approximately $2,700 less than state funding per student.
The state law change that allowed the program’s expansion also allowed for an increase in the funding formula for the tax credit scholarships. Currently at 60 percent of annual state funding per pupil it will increase by 4 percent each year, beginning in 2011-2012, until it reaches the cap of 80 percent.
The corporate scholarship program, East said, hasn’t drawn much public notice because it “serves a narrow group of kids” — those at the lower economic level. However, East said it provides “an option that works for some kids.”