NAPLES — Florida’s public school teachers are on their way to being among the worst-paid in the nation.
That is one finding of a report recently released by the National Education Association, the national teachers’ labor union. The report found that, for the 2009-10 school year, average teacher salaries in Florida were 37th among the 50 states and District of Columbia.
Florida’s average teacher salary last year was $46,708. The national average was $55,202.
Estimates for this school year show Florida teachers’ salaries falling to No. 47, according to the report.
Jonathan Tuttle, executive director of the Collier County Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers, said he isn’t surprised by the report’s findings.
“Florida continues to lag behind the rest of the country in educator pay, before the state started talking about these changes to teacher pay,” he said.
The report comes as Florida legislators are proposing sweeping changes to how teachers are hired, fired, evaluated and paid. It also comes on the heels of Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget, which proposed that teachers contribute 5 percent of their salaries to a pension fund.
Senate Bill 736 and the proposed House version got hearings in Tallahassee this past week. The Senate Bill was approved by the Senate Budget Committee 15-5. The House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee recommended the bill with amendments by a vote of 11-4.
“What kind of investment are we making in our future? There are a lot of changes being made to attract businesses to Florida. And one of the things that is going to attract businesses to Florida is the education system,” Tuttle said. “There is a Quality Counts report that said Florida has one of the best education systems in the United States. But when you look at the ‘investment’ the state is making in the system, businesses are going to shy away from Florida.”
Not everyone shares that opinion.
The Foundation for Florida’s Future has come out in support of Senate Bill 736, saying it will improve the lives of teachers. The nonprofit describes itself as a public policy organization “dedicated to keeping the promise of quality education by advocating reforms that raise standards, increase accountability, provide incentives for success and offering choices.”
Jaryn Emhof, press secretary for the organization, wrote in an e-mail that “teachers are the unsung heroes of the classroom, but Florida’s current system does not recognize teachers for their work in the classroom.
Fast facts.Collier County teachers will host rallies at several local intersections, in which they will hold signs while wearing “Defend Public Education” T-shirts between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4. Lee County is planning a similar rally for March 8, the first day of the 2011 legislative session.
Next.Point.“SB 736 changes this by putting Florida on a path to attract and retain excellent teachers. It creates a system that will identify and reward excellent teachers,” wrote Jaryn Emhof of The Foundation for Florida’s Future .
Counterpoint.“Teachers aren’t afraid of performance pay — if your base pay is acceptable. Salaries should be competitive,” said Cal Boggess, president of the Collier teachers union.
“SB 736 changes this by putting Florida on a path to attract and retain excellent teachers. It creates a system that will identify and reward excellent teachers,” Emhof wrote.
Emhof added that the salary system for teachers is the same, even for those who choose to work in low-income schools or critical subject areas.
“Under SB 736, teachers who choose to work in these schools or teach high-demand subjects such as math and science will earn more money,” she said.
Cal Boggess, president of the Collier teachers union, said it’s not about performance pay.
“Teachers aren’t afraid of performance pay — if your base pay is acceptable. Salaries should be competitive,” he said. “They haven’t been. We have to face reality on certain issues. If you want the best, you pay for the best and demand high standards.”
That is precisely what Senate Bill 736 is going to do, according to the Foundation for Florida’s Future.
“By establishing a salary system that attains and rewards excellent teachers, Florida will be better equipped to attract and retain excellent teachers to prepare Florida’s next generation for success,” the organization wrote on its website.
Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County union, doesn’t support Senate Bill 736 and said the Legislature is taking similar steps to curb unions as are counterparts in Wisconsin and Ohio.
“We’re not the problem,” he said. “Since when did we become the enemy? Since when did public employees become the scapegoat and the enemy?”
Castellano said Senate Bill 736 would have an adverse effect on recruiting.
“The idea of Florida attracting teachers is absolutely an oxymoron,” Castellano said. “It’s going to cause people to flee from here.”
Castellano said the state has dipped to 47th in the nation when it comes to teacher pay, just as it is rising to fifth in the nation for student achievement.
That boost in achievement, Castellano said, has come even though the state continues to make changes to the education system.
“We’ve taken everything they’ve thrown at us,” he said. “It’s not because of the reform, it’s in spite of it. We’re making it work, but we’re being made scapegoat for the economy and everything else that’s bad in terms of education.”
Both Collier and Lee teachers’ unions are planning rallies to get the public behind their cause.
Collier County teachers will host rallies at several local intersections, in which they will hold signs while wearing “Defend Public Education” T-shirts between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4. Lee County is planning a similar rally for March 8, the first day of the 2011 legislative session.
Staff writer Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed to this story.
Connect with Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.