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Broward Teachers Play Hardball With Scandal-Rocked District

No more dragging a stack of papers home to grade at night while watching Glee. No more late afternoon conferences with parents, or volunteering to chaperone the math team's car wash -- at least not until after Thanksgiving.

For the next couple of weeks, the Broward Teachers Union is asking its members to stop all unpaid, after-hours work, and instead "work to the rule" of their contracts, pressuring district officials to give them raises.

"The point of 'work to the rule' is to show the community all of the extra things that teachers contribute," says

John Ristow, spokesman for teachers union president Pat Santeramo.

Union officials have used this negotiating tactic before, and are reviving it this year in an effort to wrangle four-percent raises out of a cash-strapped school district.
This may sound like a presumptuous demand, given the economics of the New Depression. But the union may generate more sympathy this year, because it's negotiating with a school district staggering under a federal corruption probe.

Suspended School Board Member Beverly Gallagher has been charged with fraud, extortion and bribery for allegedly accepting a $12,500 bribe to steer school construction work to a favored company. Meanwhile, Board Member Stephanie Kraft helped make sure Vista Healthplan Inc. got the school district's three-year, $1.7 billion health insurance contract, even as her husband was on the payroll of Vista's lobbyist, Neil Sterling.

Broward teachers are now paying for Kraft's decision, since Vista plans to jack up the price of health coverage for employees who want to insure their children by a whopping 45 percent next year.

"Our school district makes a priority out of wasting tax dollars," Ristow says.

Drawing on suggestion from district employees, the union created a list of expenses the school district could cut in order to come up with $32 million to cover employee raises. Some of the proposals, such as consolidation of under-enrolled schools, may be controversial.

But the item at the top of the list should draw cheers from taxpayers everywhere: $100,000 in legal fees for the federal corruption probe.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab

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