Schools, teachers at impasse on pay hikes

Brevard Public Schools and the union that represents the county’s approximately 5,000 teachers remain at an impasse over salaries and are headed to non-binding mediation in the hopes of coming to a resolution.

The school district is touting raises of up to 4.1 percent next year for the district’s highest performing teachers. That includes the across-the-board 1.5 percent increase the school board has already said is its “best and final offer,” as well as annual state bonuses based on individual performance.

Those numbers have the Brevard Federation of Teachers calling foul.

“It’s really disheartening that they would consider a state bonus and intermingle that with a raise offer,” union vice president Anthony Colucci said. “What’s coming from the state is a bonus. It’s not being added into our salaries.”

BPS spokesperson Matt Reed said in a recent written statement that, under the combined 1.5 percent pay raise and state bonuses, about 90 percent of Brevard’s teachers would receive an annual average raise of $775 and a bonus next year of $1,200. Those numbers apply to teachers rated “highly effective” on their evaluations.

Most of the rest of the county’s educators – those rated “effective” – would see an average raise of $631 and a state bonus of $800.

Several teachers who spoke at the school board’s most recent meeting became emotional as they recounted the financial hardships of their teaching careers. The teachers said they often work longer hours than required, but struggle to make ends meet for their families. Many spoke of potentially leaving their jobs, or friends that already have.

Michelle Olinger, the union representative for Indialantic Elementary and a sixth-grade teacher, told board members those stories were not unusual.

“They come to us with their concerns, their tears, their frustration with the school board,” Olinger said.

She added: “Teachers vote, and we will remember what you did to us this year.”

Reed conceded that the pay increases are nominal.

“The modest salary raise in the proposal represents a difficult compromise in a school district where teachers, administrators and school board members all generally believe that educators should earn more,” he wrote. “Although this year’s proposed 1.5 percent raise would be BPS’ fifth in a row, the Consumer Price Index for the Southeastern United States increased 2.5 percent for 2016-2017.”

Last year’s salary increase was 1.3 percent. The highest raise in recent years was 5.1 percent in 2016.

Average teacher pay in Brevard County is $47,723 a year, just below the state average of $47,858. Median income for teachers nationwide is about $54,000.

Colucci points to the five counties adjacent to Brevard – Indian River, Volusia, Osceola, Seminole and Orange – for comparison. He said Brevard used to rank highest in teacher pay among the six counties. Numbers from the Florida Department of Education, however, show that Brevard ranked fourth among them in teacher pay last year.

Teacher pay throughout Florida varied last year from about $34,000 a year in rural Holmes County in the Florida Panhandle to almost $57,000 in Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys.

The next step in the impasse is a hearing before a special magistrate, who will then issue a recommendation to the school board. The magistrate’s recommendation is not binding. Colucci said the hearing could happen later this month or in December.   n

Article by: Jan Wesner Childs

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