Teachers union head says Avossa made false charge against him in critical email

Nov 17, 2017
Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The leader of Palm Beach County’s teachers union says that Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa leveled a false accusation against him when he blasted him for “hostile tactics” in an email Wednesday.

In the email, Avossa accused Justin Katz, the union’s recently elected president, of selectively editing videos of the school district’s negotiations with the teachers union “to remove valuable context in an attempt to incite your membership to uninformed reactions, and that is unacceptable.”

Avossa didn’t say in the email what videos or incidents he was referring to. On Friday he said the claim was originally leveled by a subordinate and that the official was “now unable to find” the videos in question. 

In an interview, Katz denied ever posting or publishing video footage of the teacher contract negotiations and said he did not know what Avossa was referring to. He emailed the school board on Friday demanding that Avossa either clarify or retract the claim.

“I've posted videos of the many times I have spoken directly to the school board at their monthly meetings,” he said in an interview. “But I cannot ever recall a time that I posted any of the negotiation videos, much less edited them in any way.”

In an email Friday, Avossa acknowledged he had no evidence of any selectively edited videos and said it was a district official - Vicki Evans-Pare, the school district’s director of labor relations - who originally made the allegation.

“These clips were brought to my attention by Vicki Evans-Pare, our director of labor relations, and show [a union official] discussing items for negotiation without showing both sides of the issue,” he said.

“Those videos referenced were shared either on Facebook or in email,” Avossa added, “but Vicki is now unable to find them, despite an exhaustive search for these clips.”

RELATED: Tempers flare as Avossa calls teachers union head ‘hostile’ and ‘inexperienced’

Avossa added that when he accused Katz of “editing the videos” he didn’t mean Katz specifically.

“When I used the term ‘you edited’ I was not necessarily referring to you as an individual but as the leader of an organization - meaning someone in (the union),” Avossa wrote.

In the Wednesday email, Avossa had also excoriated Katz for threatening to use the media, lobbying school board members and “pushing the limits of how negotiations should be managed.”

“I’ve been very professional with you thus far,” Avossa wrote, “but I draw the line at tactics that are not in the best interest of your membership and do not fairly represent the growing majority of teachers who choose not to join CTA, but are directly impacted by your behavior.”

“I know you’re new and inexperienced,” Avossa added, “but there’s no excuse for such hostile tactics.”

Here is the paragraph containing the disputed allegation in Avossa’s email Wednesday: 

“Lastly, it’s difficult to imagine that you’d send this type of email – threatening to use the media to solve issues, lobbying board members, pushing the limits of how negotiations should be managed, and editing the videos of the bargaining sessions to remove valuable context in an attempt to incite your membership to uninformed reactions, and that is unacceptable. For complete transparency, I suggest you share with your membership the full and unedited video of Mike Burke’s presentation as It provides important historical and contextual information about Florida funding of public schools and legitimate challenges the District is facing based on recent legislation (https://vodcast.palmbeachschools.org/player/XQABG).”

Here is Avossa’s email response sent Friday:

Dear Mr. Katz,

In my time as Superintendent, every budget that I have touched has prioritized teacher pay. As someone who started his career in the classroom, and as the husband of a former teacher, this issue is personal to me. 

Since coming to Palm Beach County nearly three years ago, I have enjoyed a good working relationship with CTA. My hope is that this will continue, in the best interest of the county’s students and teachers. 

The email I sent to you was intended for you, and not intended to be forwarded to the Palm Beach Post. It is important that we handle our disagreements face to face, and not litigate these issues in the media. It is not productive, and does not lend itself to a solution. 

Although I was taken aback by the email you sent to me on Monday, as you were equally surprised by my response, I think it is time that we put our heads together and work to move contract negotiations forward in a productive fashion. I’m confident we can do that. 

In your email to the Board, you referenced my comments regarding edited video clips of our negotiation sessions. These clips were brought to my attention by Vicki Evans-Pare, our Director of Labor Relations, and show Theo Harris discussing items for negotiation without showing both sides of the issue. 

Those videos referenced were shared either on Facebook or in email, but Vicki is now unable to find them, despite an exhaustive search for these clips. I’ve included an email from Vicki below for your reference. When I used the term “you edited” I was not necessarily referring to you as an individual but as the leader of an organization- meaning someone in CTA. 

You took exception to me referring to you in my email as “hostile” but those behaviors manifested again Wednesday during the Board meeting. During your comments to the Board you brought up items from contract negotiations that had already been taken off the table, such as changing high school teacher schedules. That serves no purpose but to confuse. Those issues are behind us now, and we should let the negotiating team focus on teacher salaries. 

I know that PLCs are an important issue for you. I think you would agree that PLCs are effective when they are teacher-driven, and I reiterate my position that these sessions are not mandatory for our teachers. 

However, if you are still hearing from your members that PLCs are required, we need to address that. I want us to start 2018 with a resolution on PLCs, and ask that you share with me any messaging that you believe would be effective in clarifying this matter for our teachers and school leadership. 

In your role as CTA’s president, I know we will often disagree. My hope is that we can disagree respectfully. I hope you enjoy the week off at Thanksgiving.

Sincerely,

Robert