As children gathered around iPads, their parents were glued to the bargaining table at Pembroke Pines City Hall. City officials including the city's manager, attorney and human resources director met with the Broward Teachers Union to resolve a labor dispute Tuesday.
The meeting was seen as a last-ditch effort ahead of Wednesday's crucial vote to determine whether the Pembroke Pines Charter School System would have to partner with a private company – Charter Schools USA. Teachers said it would be a change for the worse.
"We would lose our jobs. We would have to re-apply for our own jobs and work for another company that's not the Pembroke Pines charter system," said Marta Cabeza, a teacher at Pembroke Pines Charter High School.
The city and the teachers union ultimately agreed on a deal that includes an average $3,300 pay cut for educators – but avoids privatization.
Facing a $2.2 million deficit, city leaders were looking at tough alternatives Tuesday.
"Unless we can put our school system in a financial position of strength, then we will have issues down the road," City Manager Charlie Dodge said during the meeting.
"I was fearful, I wasn't a fan of the privatization at all," said Rick Raymond, a parent of two.
Parents like Kelli Voqaty vowed to send their children to another school if the partnership happened.
"I most likely would leave the system and go to our public school," she said.
City leaders asked the BTU to make some concessions that could help shave down the deficit, including pay cuts to teacher salaries that would put them on the same pay level as their colleagues at Broward County Public Schools. Another requested concession: making pay raises performance-based.
"We would have to negotiate each year for a salary increase based on performance," explained Dodge at the table.
The meeting sometimes got heated. There were tense moments as members argued over concessions. At one point, the BTU said it would take a moment to caucus. Teachers sitting in the room chanted, "Settle, settle!" "These are our livelihoods!" one woman yelled.
After three hours, handshakes and hugs sealed a deal.
"We're very pleased that we're going to be able to continue as we have for the last 14 years," said Dodge.
The math was tough to accept for some educators. While some will actually see pay increases, it averages out to a $3,300 pay cut.
"Some of us won't feel it at all, but some of us that have two teachers In the household, we're going to feel a lot," said Carlos Velazquez, a teacher at Pembroke Pines Charter High School
He was still grateful for the compromise.
"We have a victory because we're still Pembroke Charter," he said.
The city manager and other officials are expected to make their recommendation to city commissioners before Wednesday's vote in the commission chambers. Tuesday's compromise is expected to resolve the privatization question.