By Leslie Postal, from the Orlando Sentinel
Teachers welcomed the news earlier this year when Gov. Rick Scott called for $2,500 pay hikes and then kept up the raises-for-teachers drumbeat in the months that followed.
But seven months after Scott visited Ocoee Middle School to make his teacher-raise announcement, no Central Florida public-school teacher has gotten the pay hike he touted.
Two key reasons have contributed to the tie-up: school-district and union negotiations; and action by state lawmakers that ate into Scott’s $2,500 goal.
In Volusia County, officials came close to the mark, in part because the district put $1.3 million of its own money toward the raises, said Andrew Spar, the union president.That has frustrated some teachers, even if most are happy there is money for pay hikes after so many lean budget years.
The school district reached an agreement with its teachers union Friday, the first local district to do so. Its plan will give most teachers a pay raise of more than $2,000 that they should see by the end of September.
Most other local districts are in the midst of pay-raise negotiations, though the Seminole County school district won’t start until Aug. 28.
Statewide, only four of Florida’s 67 school districts have sent completed raise plans to the Florida Department of Education, underscoring how hashing out agreements has been a problem.
Some teachers’ unions have balked at efforts to tie the raises to the state’s controversial teacher-evaluation system. Others want districts to chip in other funds to give teachers more substantial raises.
Teachers, whose “feet are held to the fire,” are discouraged that the raises haven’t arrived yet, said Tina McFerren, who teaches government and economics at East River High in Orange County.
McFerren also thinks the Orange County School Board’s raise offers don’t go far enough.
“I consider us the backbone of the school system,” said the 28-year teaching veteran. “What’s disappointing is it’s not even the full $2,500.”
The Orange County school district and the Orange Classroom Teachers Association negotiated during the summer but have not reached an agreement. The district said the teacher-raise money it received was short about $9 million, if the goal was $2,500 for all teachers.
So the district proposed a two-year pay deal. During that time period, it could afford to use additional money beyond the state raise allocation, officials said, and then give most teachers about $2,500.
A two-year plan also means teachers next year wouldn’t have to worry about the strictest provisions of Florida’s new merit-pay law, which are likely to limit pay increases, they said.
“It is really completely in the best interest of the teachers,” said School Board Chairman Bill Sublette.
The district has also made a one-year offer to the union that would give most teachers a $1,900 raise. The union has countered with its own plan, seeking a one-year pay increase of about $2,500 for most teachers plus an additional 3 percent hike.
Union president Diana Moore said she is hesitant to negotiate a two-year deal because the merit-pay law could be altered next year. After years with few raises — and pay cuts because of required pension contributions — teachers deserve more this year, even if the district must pull from other funds to pay for it, she said.
“We don’t want people working second jobs at night at Macy’s,” she added.
But the union plan cannot be supported by the district’s operating budget, said Scott Howat, the administrator overseeing negotiations.
Sublette said the district will make a “sweetened offer” in coming weeks but said the board’s two-year deal — a 5.7 percent increase on average — to teachers already was “markedly more” than what was given to administrators and employees such as custodians and cafeteria workers. They got 5.1 percentto 5.4 percentaverage pay increases during two years, he said.
In January, Scott proposed the state spend $480 million to give $2,500 raises to all full-time classroom teachers.
The Legislature allocated that funding — but expanded the pool of eligible employees to include principals, guidance counselors, librarians and others, meaning the $480 million had to be divided among more people. It also required teacher-union negotiations.
That information didn’t always filter out of Tallahassee, however. “We heard from people the day after the session ended: ‘Where’s our raise?'” said Boyd Karns, the Seminole administrator in charge of pay negotiations.
“Even though they touted the $2,500 figure, it’s not going to be enough,” said Stuart Klatte, president of the Lake County Education Association.
His calculations suggest Lake teachers could get $1,400 to $1,700 from the state’s raise money, a figure echoed by others.
But even if the raises are less than $2,500, the chance to boost teacher pay is welcome after so many years of cuts, said K.T. Caldwell, president of the Seminole Education Association.
“We’re excited there is money to bargain,” she added.
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