ANNUAL CONTRACTS: A CASE IN POINT

A Brazen Bubba Browning Bypasses the Contract

Again.

It didn’t take long. I reference a perfect example of abuse of power that has resulted from the erasure of teacher tenure in Florida. As folks around these parts might expect, Pasco County Schools’ superintendent, Kurt “the Bubba” Browning, so magnanimously provided it.

As I’ve mentioned oft-times in the past, ol’ Bubba has never been a fan of sharing prerogative with anyone. He recoils at the notion of collaborating with the United School Employees of Pasco on any issue of import that involves items of contention. He has demonstrated time and again that he subscribes to the self-serving aphorism that “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

Bubba’s Latest Stunt

Indeed, he’s at it again. This time he’s got the principals of at least three turnaround schools telling teachers to attend “mandatory” trainings outside of work hours, which is a clear violation of the district’s own employment contract with its teachers.

There is absolutely no possibility that the district is somehow ignorant of contract language designed to safeguard teachers from the unreasonable expectations of overbearing principals. There is also zero chance that the principals themselves were similarly unaware.

Kenny Blankenship, president of USEP, got wind of the principals’ power grab and sent Bubba’s assistant superintendent for administration a letter demanding that the principals in question “cease and desist.” Blankenship’s letter is a bit terse, and for good reason. Ever since taking over as president of USEP, he has had to deal with one affront after another by a superintendent seemingly obsessed with eroding the role of the union in helping to shape district policy. His letter is straight to the point, but professional. (It appears in its entirety at the end of this post.)

Shifty, Shady Shibley

District Assistant Superintendent for Administration Kevin “Benedict” Shibley wrote an email in response to Blankenship’s letter. In his own characteristically dismissive tone, Shibley totally evades addressing Blankenship’s chief concern that moves of the sort made by the three principals “at the very least, require negotiations…”

Shibley wrote, “We continue to work on a proposal for the six schools impacted by the state’s Differentiated Accountability system that could modify that expectation and anticipate bringing it to the table next week.” He continued, “In the meantime, schools have been advised that while these additional activities can be strongly encouraged, administrators should not say or behave in a manner that would lead a reasonable teacher to believe that their attendance is compulsory.”

A Voluminous Vessel of Equine Excrement

What a big crock of horseshit. In the case of teachers with annual contracts, “strongly encouraged” means you better have your expendable ass at “these additional activities” or risk being non-renewed next spring. Pure and simple.

The erasure of tenure has created a situation wherein the district doesn’t even pretend to care about the contract. Armed with the knowledge that roughly half the teachers in the district are on annual contracts, and that annually contracted teachers serve at the often-twisted pleasure of the district, Bubba and his minions push the envelope, placing their own agenda first, and as usual, teachers’ interests last.

Ol’ Jeff Solochek put up a very brief piece about the fracas in his Gradebook blog on July 29. The best part of his post was a comment from Pat Connolly, a teacher at Land O’ Lakes High School. Connolly summed up the situation quite handily. Wrote Connolly, “Let’s be real here. Even if a principal makes it clear that attendance is merely “suggested” and not compulsory, in this time of Annual Contracts and highly subjective evaluations a teacher would choose not to attend only at the very real risk of career suicide.”

For obvious reasons, principals are not allowed to require teachers to attend meetings or trainings outside of previously agreed-upon work days and hours. The fact that at least three principals simultaneously decided to require teachers to attend after-hour “trainings” in violation of the contract begs one to wonder if Kurt Browning’s administration is actively encouraging principals to flout the contract. District leaders have behaved in a manner that would lead a reasonable teacher to believe that there is a better chance than not that it is, and that Browning himself is behind the flagrantly contemptuous behavior.

It is unfortunate that Browning feels the need to debase and denigrate the profession that sits at the very core of his office. It is unfortunate that he feels it necessary to imbue in the culture of his district leadership cadre such an imperious disregard for longstanding agreements and their practical application.

Thanks to USEP, at least Bubba & Co.’s latest sleight of hand stunt is being called into question. As for their part, Browning and his collection of morons are simply giving us an advanced screening of what they hope to achieve should they succeed in breaking the union: Unabated dictatorial misery that will cause a mass exodus of teachers.

July 28, 2016 letter from USEP president Kenny Blankenship to Pasco County Schools assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley:

July 28, 2016
Mr. Kevin Shibley
Assistant Superintendent for Administration
District School Board of Pasco County
Land O’Lakes, FL 34638

Mr. Shibley:

Please consider this letter as USEP’s formal notice to you of our concerns over the order from administrators to teachers regarding “mandatory” training issue at recently designated DA schools that we have recently learned about from USEP members. It is USEP’s contention that the “mandatory” trainings referenced by your administrators is a mandatory subject of bargaining and is a violation of contract language.

It is USEP’s contention that there is clear, unambiguous contract language addressing the district’s ability to mandate that teachers attend staff development beyond their contracted work days. Specifically, Article VII, Section I, clearly outlines that “attendance at staff development training components shall be voluntary” and “teachers at alternative schools will receive a minimum of thirty (30) workdays prior to the end of the previous school year.” Certainly this language applies to all teachers in regards to assigned mandatory training. Also in Article VII Section S, “Any assignment beyond the teacher workday, including but not limited to evening school and extracurricular assignments, shall not be obligatory.” We have now heard from no less than three different schools that the district initiated approach runs counter to this language, and we demand that this practice cease immediately.

USEP would consider the implementation of this practice as a unilateral change in working conditions for our teachers and an unfair labor practice. The decision to move in this direction would, at the very least, require negotiations, and this has never been done in spite of USEP’s request to be engaged in the planning for the DA schools of Pasco County since February 2016.

Therefore, USEP demands that the district immediately cease and desist with the implementation of these trainings and reschedule them when it has been properly negotiated with USEP. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Kenneth W. Blankenship,
President USEP
Cc: Kurt Browning, Superintendent

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