Did you know all of the Sarasota County School Board/Union salary and benefit negotiations are open to the public?

I didn’t think so.

If you go to the Sarasota County School District website in the lower right is a section titled “Upcoming Events”. If you click on the small print “Click for Monthly Calendars” you will learn that the School Board has since June 11th, 2014 been negotiating salaries and benefits with the Sarasota County Classified/Teachers Association (SC/TA). These negotiations are normally scheduled each Wednesday from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. The next scheduled School Board and SC/TA meeting will be on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. All negotiations are held at the SC/TA offices located at 4675 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL.

What you can’t find on the website is that all of these negotiations are open to the public. 

According to Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist Sarasota County Schools, “The meeting location and dates/times are posted to our website for public notification; members of the public may attend if they wish.”

You would think the Sarasota County School Board members would want the public to know about these negotiations since salaries and benefits make up such a large portion of the district budget. According to the 2013-2014 Final Budget General Fund Executive Summary salaries and benefits make up approximately 78% of the total budget.

Why should taxpayers care about the Sarasota County School Board Budget? Because 76% of the money comes directly from local property taxes. About 23% comes from the state and less than 5% comes from the federal government.

Another reason these negotiation are important is because President Obama’s Race to the Top for Student Success, codified in Florida Senate Bill 736, requires all teachers be evaluated and paid based on performance measures.

According to the White House website on Race To The Top (RTTT):

Race to the Top marks a historic moment in American education. This initiative offers bold incentives to states willing to spur systemic reform to improve teaching and learning in America’s schools. Race to the Top has ushered in significant change in our education system, particularly in raising standards and aligning policies and structures to the goal of college and career readiness. Race to the Top has helped drive states nationwide to pursue higher standards, improve teacher effectiveness, use data effectively in the classroom, and adopt new strategies to help struggling schools.

Improve teacher effectiveness means performance pay for teachers. Specifically Florida’s RTTT for Student Success: Reforms teacher evaluations; Ends Professional Service Contracts for new teachers hired after July 1, 2011; Creates 2 pay schedules after July 1, 2014: “Performance” and “Grandfathered” Pay Schedules; Eliminates pay supplements for advanced degrees out of certification area; and Ends “last-in-first-out” for reduction in force decisions.

The Florida Education Association describes President Obama’s Race to the Top for Student Success (SB 736) thusly:

Despite all the talk about local control and less government, this bill reduces a school district’s flexibility and authority over teacher evaluations, pay schedules and working conditions. This bill gives new power and authority to the Department of Education and the Florida Legislature.

RTTT for Student Success is a component of Common Core State Standards, renamed Florida Standards.

According to the June 11, 2014 Bargaining Negotiation Notes, “Some conversation ref. highly effective teachers, summer school and performance pay – parties tabled the discussion for later.” To see a sample of the new PRIDE Teacher Evaluation Form click here or the PRIDE Document Checklist click here. Ferguson states, “Topics/proposals to be discussed at future meetings have not yet been determined.”

Taxpayers and interested citizens may want to sit in on these negotiations that will define “effective teachers” and lay out teacher “performance pay” and evaluation standards. Don’t you think?

Question from our readers: Why doesn’t the Sarasota County School Board hold all of these negotiations in the District chambers and televise them?