Breaking: City, union to meet in charter school mess

The Pembroke Pines charter schools may not go private after all. 

The city has called an impromptu meeting to negotiate with Broward Teachers Union officials Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m, a day before a controversial vote is scheduled to privatize the city's unique charter school system, which has 5,600 students and a budget of $47 million system. 

The schools are running a budget deficit of $2 million, according to city officials who say the city's scant reserve fund of $3.5 million can't sustain the system unless there are serious salary cuts for the city's 375 teachers.

The teachers and the Broward Teachers Union that represents them had resisted the cuts, but Monday teachers met with union officials and made it clear that they were willing to forgo their current contract, which pays them better than the average Broward public teacher, and negotiate something that will save the town from privatizing the schools.

The city has negotiated no-bid contracts with the private firm Charter Schools USA to take over the the schools.  

"We don't want lose our our charter system, we don't want to close our doors, or be privatized in any way," said English teacher Marta Cabeza, who attended the BTU meeting and said the consensus among Pines teachers is to take a pay cut if it means saving the system, which is tops in the county graduation rate.

The move to privatize has been spearheaded by Pines City Manager Charlie Dodge, who has a long-held relationship with private charter school firms.

"As a student I don't want to be part of this," said junior Gabriela Eyrich, 16. "I don't want to be treated as a business, I want to be treated as a student and get the quality of education I had before."

City Commissioner Jay Schwartz said he's hopeful a deal between the city and union can be reached Tuesday, but said he's taking nothing for granted.

"This is important for the city," said Schwartz, who said he will attend the negotiations.