FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County educators who are part of the district’s teacher’s union are still working under last year’s contract, although the school year is more than halfway complete.
The Okaloosa County Education Association is the bargaining agent for nearly 1,900 instructional personnel in the district. The group started working with the district on the contract last summer, but as of education association's October meeting, the district was still not prepared to offer a counter to its salary proposal, according to OCEA President Angelique Cox.
“In fact, we are still waiting for the district to contact us with the next negotiations meeting date,” Cox said last week. “It is frustrating. We understand that the budget is tight, but we have always felt that the step raise should be automatic.
“The retirements of experienced teachers who are replaced by newer, less expensive teachers should not be an additional cost to the district.”
In the past several months, the district created new district-level and administrative positions while instructional personnel still do not have a step increase or a settled contract, Cox claimed.
“In the meantime, we’re working under a rigorous evaluation system and being asked to perform more duties and responsibilities for the same pay as last year,” she said.
District officials declined to comment on Cox's claims, but said that the district is holding an executive session on Thursday. Following that session, the district will schedule a meeting with OCEA “in the hopes of coming to an agreement on the contract.”
School board member Diane Kelley, who took her seat as one of two new board members in January, said the board is discussing the contract — but hasn’t come to an agreement.
“But I’m optimistic that we will have an agreement soon,” Kelley said.
Cox said she is also hopeful they will be moving forward with an agreement soon.
“There are two new school board members in office and a new superintendent,” she said. “We’re eager to put the distractions that have kept us from focusing on the great work of our teachers and Okaloosa County students behind us and sit down with the district to resolve the contract.”