2 Manatee board members to boycott private meetings
Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 8:59 p.m.
MANATEE COUNTY – An openly bitter dispute between two Manatee County School Board members and Superintendent Tim McGonegal could quickly have financial implications because it leaves the district handicapped in bargaining sessions with local unions.
MANY PAY CUTS REDUCED
At a special board meeting Tuesday night, the Manatee County School Board unanimously approved a revised package of budget cuts that lessens pay cuts for most district employees.
The decision was made after the district backed off from a 2.75 percent pay cut for teachers to be applied retroactively to the start of the school year. The board said it wanted pay cuts to be applied fairly for all district employees.
By eliminating a retroactive cut for teachers, and making other adjustments to pay, the district will not save $1.8 million the cuts would have provided. That money was planned to offset the district’s health insurance fund deficit, which was $5.4 million at the start of the year. The deficit remains an issue for the following year’s budget.
Here is a summary of the changes approved Tuesday:
• Principals and assistant principals who received a 3 percent pay cut will receive a 1 percent payment.
• Top administrators who received a 5 percent pay cut will get a 1 percent payment.
• Lower-level administrators who faced a 3 percent pay cut will get a 0.33 percent payment.
• The number of unpaid furlough days for clerks and secretaries reduced from three to two days.
• Number of furlough days for maintenance and custodial staff reduced from three to two days.
• Teaching assistants and aides will no longer have to take three furlough days.
And there is no doubt the spat — conducted via email and through the media — has given Manatee schools a very public black eye.
This week, School Board member Julie Aranibar joined board member Karen Carpenter in taking the rare stance to boycott any board executive sessions, the closed government meetings where bargaining and financial negotiating commonly take place in Florida.
Both board members say their boycott resulted from McGonegal going public with his complaints that Aranibar and Carpenter backed painful retroactive pay cuts for teachers in executive session, but then voted against the cuts in public.
On Tuesday, School Board Attorney John Bowen said their decision to skip executive sessions could violate the oath of office for board members. In addition, Bowen said their absence could hamper McGonegal in negotiations with unions, especially after lawmakers pass a budget that guides school spending for 2012-13.
“If he can’t find out the board’s view, how can he represent them at the bargaining table?” Bowen said. “In my opinion, individual board members cannot pick and choose what meetings they go to. They have a duty as a board member to participate in meetings where the board is going to conduct their business.”
Aranibar’s decision comes at a time when it seems relations between McGonegal and the board’s two newest members could not sink lower. Since last year, McGonegal and the pair have fought a running battle over how to make budget cuts.
As the unrest deepens, one other board member is frustrated that the spat and boycott of meetings are damaging the district’s reputation and not helping schools.
“I think as board members we do have an obligation to attend the meetings,” Board Member Bob Gause said. “We’re hired to focus on the job of educating and we’ve gotten completely off that. This stuff has my stomach in knots.”
The spat shows no sign of ending, and intensified this week.
In an email sent to McGonegal informing him of her boycott of closed meetings, Aranibar accused McGonegal of taking the position that she is “less than other board members or not trustworthy.”
She also said the district’s press relations office had been used to “impugn her” both before and after her election to office in 2010. Aranibar drew media attention recently after the Herald-Tribune reported that she promised to take a pay cut to support teachers, but had not.
State law allows the board to meet privately in executive sessions to discuss litigation or bargaining position with unions over pay and benefits. Litigation meetings are recorded by a court reporter but state law requires no record be kept of bargaining discussions, Bowen said.
That became an issue when McGonegal criticized Carpenter and Aranibar after they voted against the retroactive pay cut which would sting employees with a year of cuts in a handful of paychecks.
That led Carpenter last week to boycott an executive session in which the remaining board agreed to rescind the retroactive nature of the cuts, sparing employees about 30 percent of the pay cut.
Asked whether she was failing to represent voters by missing that meeting, Carpenter said she needed to rethink whether she had made the right decision.
“I really regret it’s gotten to this level of vitriol and accusations,” she said. “We’ve gone done a road from which it’s very hard to come back.”
If things deteriorated to the point any board member’s actions were questioned, state law gives the governor the power to remove elected officials who fail to uphold their duty.
Bowen, the board attorney, said he was not consulted by Aranibar or Carpenter before they made their vow. Had they done so, he would have advised against their actions, he said.
“They took an oath of office that said among other things said, ‘I will faithfully perform the duties of board members,'” Bowen said.
The board and the superintendent are scheduled on March 28 to attend a team-building exercise run by the Florida School Boards Association.