After the second mediation meeting to negotiate teachers' raises, the Suwannee County School Board and the teacher's union are closing the books on the issue.

The bargaining teams settled last week on three stipulations: teachers' raises set at 3 percent across the board, effective Jan. 1; a one-time bonus equal to 3 percent of salary received for July 1 through Dec. 31, 2005 and creation of a sick leave bank to provide employees emergency sick leave for illness or injury beyond that available under provisions governing sick leave.

President of United Teacher's of Suwannee County Sheryl Daniels said though she feels the agreement is unfair, the union is tired of fighting the Board this late in the school year.

"We see the Board isn't going to budge. Why waste time and energy on something that's going to cause unrest for everyone," Daniels said. "This is as good as it's going to get, and we're tired."

Daniels said though the union didn't get the raise they wanted she feels satisfied because the union succeeded at getting raises retroactive.

"Though they're calling it a bonus, the pay amounts to the same as raises being retroactive," she said.

School Board Business Manager Rick Norris said at the first mediation meeting teachers would be offered a 3 percent raise but it would not be retroactive but effective Jan. 1. Usually, teachers' raises are retroactive from July 1.

The two bargaining teams settled at the mediation meeting at the School Board office Jan. 19. Teachers will be asked to vote on the agreement Jan. 31 at each school site. Once the information is passed on to the School Board, the Board will have a final meeting to ratify the decision.

Daniels said she suspects teachers will vote in favor of the decision because they are tired of fighting the Board.

The decision follows a long battle between the teacher's union and School Board over teachers' raises, which began in the fall. The union fought for a 6 percent raise, whereas the Board maintained their 3 percent stance on raise offers.

Though Norris has repeatedly reminded the union about the 1.26 percent step increase already given which raised the total increase for teachers to 4.26 percent, Daniels has maintained the statements have been partially true because only a fraction of staff are eligible for step increases.

Daniels also maintained that the School Board's decision to accept a raise increase of 4.26 percent in order not to exceed the amount teachers were being offered, is actually more than what the majority of teachers will receive due to step increase eligibility.

Norris said instructional staff is paid the step increase out of the general fund, and 239 out of 368 of those staff members received step increases this year. Also, many more non-instructional staff received the step increase, he said.

According to Daniels, employees who did not receive step increases include 25 percent of instructional staff, 57 percent of non-instructional staff paid from Fund 100, 54 percent of food service workers and 37 percent of other non-instructional staff.

Norris said he did not have the numbers for the amount of non-instructional staff who received step increases.

"I'm glad we were able to resolve the issue. We can now move on to other things," he said.

Vanessa Fultz may be reached by calling 1-386-362-1734 ext. 130 or by emailing vanessa.fultz@gaflnews.

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