AFSCME in the news: Teachers, employees protest Polk School Board impasse with unions

The Ledger:



Fox 13:

Creative Loafing:

  • The Ledger

The Polk County School Board was relatively quiet Tuesday about its impasse with the unions, but teachers and employees were loud.

About a hundred people protested with signs and chants outside the School District's office in Bartow before the School Board's meeting, where about a dozen also spoke out against the impasse.

"Teachers' lives matter," they chanted. "Support staff matters."

The district announced the impasse earlier this month following negotiations with Polk Education Association, which represents teachers, paraprofessionals and secretaries, and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2227, which represents custodians, bus drivers and maintenance workers.

Wages remain the primary dispute, although health insurance, evaluations and transfer agreements are also being negotiated.

"I have stood before this board many times, asking you to budget salaries up front," said PEA President Marianne Capoziello. "Then we come to the bargaining table asking for leftovers.

"You are fighting the wrong fight," she said. "Stand with your teachers, not against them."

Parents, students and community members stood with their teachers Tuesday - both in the protest and in the School Board meeting.

Kevin Kayden, a resident of unincorporated Polk, said several teachers asked him to speak for them because they were worried about retaliation from the district.

"At the end of the day, you get your pay ... the superintendent will get her raise," Kayden said to the board, "but everybody knows that teachers don't have that option.

"The teachers and everybody else who are doing the actual work, doing everything they have to do, even spending their own money so students have what they need, have politely asked for a raise," he said. "Now you've paid a law firm ... from Tallahassee to fight your teachers."

The district, through Allen, Norton & Blue attorney Michael Mattimore, proposed a zero-percent raise for teachers and employees. That includes no salary steps, union representatives said.

The district has agreed to pay Mattimore up to $75,150 to represent it in negotiations with the unions.

In counter proposals, the PEA asked for about a 3.41 percent increase in pay and the AFSCME Local 2227 asked for a 2.5 percent increase in pay. Those requests would add about $10 million and $3 million, respectively, to the district's budget.

Instead of continuing negotiations, the district announced the impasse. The parties are now scheduling mediation. If a resolution isn't reached in mediation, the issues will end up going to a special magistrate.

"Shame on Polk County school management for making such an alliance to disrespect your front-line workers," said PEA-Retired President Rhea McKinney. "I ask that you address Allen, Norton & Blue and Mattimore with the now famous words of Donald Trump - 'you're fired' - so labor and management can get on with the business of settling contracts."

Sarah Fortney, a teacher at Stambaugh Middle, asked the audience and School Board members to raise their hands if: "You value relationships. You want a positive culture in our schools. You realize that Polk County has a dedicated staff that shows up each and every day to work. You understand your dedicated staff deserves a contract before we work."

School Board members Billy Townsend, Lori Cunningham, Hazel Sellers and Sara Beth Reynolds raised their hands.

"Please do the right thing - support our students, staff and teachers," Fortney said. "Judging by the number of hands on the board, we may have more in common than not."

But the board was less responsive to the protest than it was to Fortney's questions.

Townsend was the only board member to come outside before the meeting to acknowledge the protesters. He shook hands and took pictures with them.

During the meeting, he asked Chairwoman Kay Fields if he would be able to respond to the public's comments. She said no.

"Are you going to turn my mic off?" he asked, getting an applause from the audience, which filled the auditorium to capacity. The district's cafeteria was full, too, with protesters watching the meeting from a TV.

"We can have comments as a board," Fields said.

"Well, I'm a board member," Townsend said.

After about a dozen people spoke, Fields allowed Townsend to respond.

"(The decision to go to impasse) probably predates May or June," Townsend said. "This was a goal. I'm not sure where that goal came from, but it's not a goal for me. I will fight it with everything I have.

"I'm not going to sit here and lie and say we can give you a raise that is going to change your lives, but you deserve much better than what you've gotten," he added. "I don't think this board or district has negotiated with you in good faith."

Fields said it was not the board's intent to go to impasse, although she would not answer when audience members asked why it did then.

"I am hopeful that we will be able to get past this," Fields said. "I know some of you will not believe this, but on behalf of everyone up here, we appreciate what you do for our students."

School Board member Lynn Wilson told The Ledger after the meeting that it is part of his personal agenda to change the budgeting process so that salaries are budgeted up front.

Last year's agreement wasn't reached until late May, days before the end of the school year.

  • WFLA

Frustrated and at impasse, Polk County teachers and support staff will rally today at a school board meeting.

The Polk County School District declared an impasse on January 6th in the collective bargaining negotiations with its two unions: the Polk Education Association (PEA) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2227.

The primary dispute is over wages.

PEA received a salary proposal with no raises from the School Board in October for the Teaching/Instructional and Support Staff it represents.

PEA proposed an increase to all supplements, citing that they have languished for years without increase. The proposal amounts to an overall 3.41 percent increase.

According to a statement released by the district, this increase would add more than $10 million in recurring costs to the District’s budget.  In April 2015, wages and benefits for the PEA unit increased by $13 million. In May 2016, wages and benefits increased by more than $12 million retroactive to July 1, 2015.

AFSCME seeks a 2.5 percent wage increase, which would add just under $3 million to the District’s recurring budget. Previously, AFSCME Local 2227 bargaining unit members received wage and benefits increases in 2014 of more than $1.5 million and just under $3 million in 2015.

The District rejected both wage proposals. Although the School District of Polk County is the eighth-largest in the State of Florida by student enrollment, it ranks 64th out of 67th by per-student funding.

The Polk Education Association, frustrated by the fact that the School Board has not bargained with honest intent, asked the teachers and support staff it represents to rally at the January 24 School Board meeting.

“The district has employed a hired gun law firm from Tallahassee to ‘negotiate’ against its employees. It appears that the only thing the district has money for is hiring out-of-town lawyers to work against its own hard-working and dedicated staff,” said Marianne Capoziello, President of the Polk Education Association.

“It seems that the PEA bargaining team’s worst fears have come to fruition,” said Capoziello. “The team believed that this was the district’s plan all along. The tenor at the table, the lack of meaningful dialog and the lack of respect for the process was evident from the beginning. Our team wanted to find solutions and wanted to find reasonable compromise and their team simply bides time and declared impasse.”

Proposals on health Insurance, teacher evaluations and transfer policies are also in the mix.

  • ABC

Teachers in Polk County are not going down without a fight.

This evening, educators came out in big numbers, protesting because they did not receive a raise.

Besides money, they say it’s more about respect.

“The frustration is that there has never been a time when so much is being expected from teachers as there is right now,” said Polly Burkhart, who has worked as a teacher in Polk County for more than 30 years.

She said the current state of negotiations has reached a new low.

“The salaries that we are asking for have nothing to do with getting rich. They have to do with putting food on the table and being able to put gas in the car,” she said.

The teacher’s union proposal asked for a 3.4 percent raise across the board — that’s roughly $1,500 extra per teacher.

The district came back to the table with no raise at all.

“That was their offer. We offer you nothing,” said Marianne Capoziello, who is head of the union.

She believes this kind of impasse is exactly what drives the great teachers away.

ABC Action News checked with the state and learned that Polk County pays teachers $46,689, on average. That’s less than the state average.

It’s also less than what teachers are paid in Hillsborough and Pinellas County, but more than Pasco and Hernando.

“They say they want to gain and retain the best and brightest in the classrooms and in their schools, and then they do this,” Capoziello said.

For its part, the district said money is tight because it’s one of the lowest funded districts in the state.

Both sides look forward to a resolution, but it may now take a special magistrate to get there.

Following Tuesday’s protest, teachers plan to pack the board meeting Tuesday night and speak out about the impasse during the public comment section.


  • Fox 13

Polly Burkhart's life's work has been spent in classrooms. But after 32 years of educating Polk County kids, she feels her bosses at the school board still don't understand the daily grind she and her colleagues endure.

"The salaries we're asking for have nothing to do with getting rich. They have to do with putting food on the table. They have to do with putting gas in your car," Burkhart said Tuesday.

The Polk County Education Association asked the board to include a 3.4 percent raise for teachers in its budget. They say the board snubbed them by walking away from negotiations and declaring an impasse.



"That was their offer. We offer you nothing," Polk Education Association President Marianne Capoziello said Tuesday.

Capoziello says the move is a slap in the face.

"They continually budget everything and continue to spend money and then try to fund salaries with what's leftover," she said.

A district spokesperson says the board is pursuing mediation with the teachers' union. They say the proposed raise would cost the district more than $10 million in recurring costs. Board member Billy Townsend says he disagrees with the past board's decision to declare an impasse.

"I think it sends a terrible message at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to recruit and retain teachers," he said Tuesday.

Seasoned educators couldn't agree more.

"I would think by this point in my career that things would have gotten so much better for teachers. And I'm hugely disappointed that it's really gone the other way," Burkhart said.

Dozens of teachers are protesting the school district's impasse ahead of Tuesday evening's board meeting. They will have to wait until the end of the meeting to voice their opinions during the meeting's public comment section.

  • Creative Loafing

Polk County teachers protested en masse after the school district denied their demand for a small raise. Teachers in the county currently make less than the state average. What happens when one of the most important jobs in all of humanity becomes so undervalued that no one can make a living doing it anymore? "Who cares? I don't have kids and I don't live in Polk County," said someone who apparently plans on gliding through the next 50 years or so without any incidental human interaction whatsoever.