Marion County School Board unanimously OKs agreement with Marion Education Association


File photo: Eric Cummings, speaks during the Marion County School Board workshop in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

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Posted November 2, 2022 | By Allen Barney
allen@ocalagazette.com

There was a sense of accomplishment and hopefulness during the Marion County School Board meeting held on Oct. 25 as the board unanimously approved its annual contract with the Marion Education Association.

Negotiations between the two sides have been difficult and tense in recent years, and officials on both sides said having an agreement in this early in the school is a promising step.

The new contract, which still needs to be ratified by the association members, includes raises and other improvements for instructional staff. But the focus on Tuesday was on the shared relief that an agreement had been reached early and without too much stress.

Helen Hamel, the Magnet program coordinator at Lake Weir Middle School, beamed with happiness as she addressed the school board members.

“I want to start off with a big thank you,’’ she said. “This is the first time in my career that I am able to sign and fully ratify my contract before the end of the first semester. This is amazing, thank you for the speed and efficiency with which both sides negotiated.”

As with all bargaining sessions, Hamel said, there were concessions and compromises made by both sides, but this is “a great start.” She said she hopes other issues such as planning time, the compression of salary of teachers in their first few years of employment, academic integrity and choice of materials in classrooms are discussed in the next negotiation.

Marion Education Association President Mark Avery pulled back the curtains to talk about the improved process that led to the new agreement.

“We spent a lot of time this year working on the contract,’’ he said. “Last year, a lot of members came in and spoke negatively about the bargaining process and how it works. I will proudly say that this year the district and the association worked diligently over the last six months to try and get this done. We look forward to continuing this progress in future sessions.”

Board member Don Browning said it is exciting that an agreement has been reached, but he said he wants to see more money put toward the instructional staff.

“Pay really matters,’’ he said. “It’s almost $7 million, (instructional staff payroll) and its exciting. What would be more exciting is if we spent more money on our people.”

Board member Nancy Thrower, a former teacher, had high praise for the instructional staff and on the moment’s positivity.

“I’d like to focus on the historic nature of the negotiations and how everyone involved went to the mat to make sure that our employees, who are such a critical and valuable resource, need to know and have stability in what their school year is going to look like,” she said.

“This is very near and dear to my heart as an educator,’’ Thrower continued. “I intend that this will become the way we do things, and it’s a huge step forward for our district. Seventy-eight percent of our operating budget goes toward salary and benefits, and I can’t think of money better spent.”

Vice-Chair Allison Campbell was enthusiastic about the next round of negotiations.

“This board was adamant at the end of the last agreement, which happened at the end of the last school year, to get to work as soon as possible so that we could reach this point. I’m looking forward to the team getting started right now, as soon as we finish approving this, to get started on the 2023-2024 agreement,” she said.

The latest version of the agreement is 81 pages, and the document is available to the public online on the Oct. 25 meeting agenda.

The most notable changes include:

  • There will be changes in the pay for instructional staff for the 2022-2023 school year. For employees who are grandfathered in (holding a professional service contract or continuing contract), their base salary will increase by $1,875, retroactive to July 1, 2022. This change moves the Marion County Public School minimum base salary from $47,000 to $48,906.
  • An important part of their pay involves whether the employee is deemed highly effective or effective. Employees receiving an overall assessment under the Marion County Instructional Evaluation System (MCIES) of Highly Effective for the prior school year will receive an adjustment of $525, the previous total was $200. Employees receiving an overall assessment of Effective for the prior school year will receive an adjustment of $393, the previous total was $150.
  • If a teacher chooses to not be in the grandfathered salary schedule, they could choose to have a Probationary Contract (PC) or an Annual Contract (AC). If an employee chooses to make the move to those contracts or the Performance Salary Schedule, there are different totals with an assessment of Highly Effective earning a $700 adjustment, instead of $250. The total for achieving Effective remains at $393 in this contract.
  • The new employee matrix on page 64 of the document shows the chart of pay for teachers, depending on years in the system. For teachers with 0-19 years, the base pay is $48,906. Beginning in year 20, the base pay rises to $49,656 and $50,456 for year 21. The most an employee can make is when they reach 30-plus years, when the base salary is $59,256.
  • Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, department/grade level chairpersons will be recommended annually by the employees of the department/grade levels. The principal will consider the recommendations and make a final selection. The grade/department chair will earn $500 for the position for the duration of the school year. An employee with a reading endorsement will earn $1,500 for the school year under the new agreement.
  • Subject to negotiations, all ESE Specialists shall receive an annual supplement of $3,000. All ESE Specialists must be fully certified to receive the annual supplement. The previous supplement for the position was $2,500.
  • All optional professional development taken by employees outside the 7.75-hour day, or on non-contract day, that are related to the employee’s current assignment, will be paid at $27.50 per hour beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. The previous hourly wage for such training was $25 per hour.
  • Each employee shall have a supervisory-free lunch period of no less than 30 minutes, except in unusual cases. The previous agreement gave employees a 25-minute lunch period.

Board Chair Eric Cummings ended the discussion with a message for the instructional staff throughout Marion County.

“We were all on board in making sure that that our staff would not be working in the dark for a whole year. That was important to us because you are all important to us,” he said.

“We are looking forward to starting next year’s negotiations and moving forward,’’ he added. “This will not be an exceptional thing and it will be the norm to get it done earlier and that when the school year starts, you already know where you’re going to be.”