Local educators skeptical of DeSantis’ plan for teacher raises and bonuses

Gov. Ron DeSantis scheduled a press conference at Vero Beach High School Nov. 14, 2019, to make an announcement building off his plan for teacher compensation. "It seems there is a national trend of stagnation in terms of student achievement," DeSantis said during a conference in the Fighting Indians library. "We want to do what we can to make sure we are continuing to put our best foot forward." The governor proposed a bonus program for teachers and principals at the price of 300 million dollars for the state. The three-tier bonus plan is part of an incentive to encourage principals and teachers to remain at title 1 schools. "We think this is an improvement for the best and brightest, and its going to be something that will reward those folks who are really working hard on behalf of our students." [Photo: Kaila Jones]

Gov. Ron DeSantis blew into Vero Beach High School’s library last week ahead of a fundraising event and gave a short press conference announcing his plan to provide more bonuses to teachers – adding onto a plan he announced last month to increase teacher salaries. The announcement was met by skepticism by some in attendance.

Members of the Indian River County School Board, the teachers’ union and other County officials were invited to the event – though none were given a clue as to what the announcement would be about.

School Board Chair Laura Zorc stood with others in the crowd and heard of Gov. DeSantis’ plan to invest another $300 million into teacher bonuses – focusing on Title I schools.

Title I schools are those with a high population of low-income students based on the number who receive free and reduced lunches.

Zorc initially expressed support for the plan, which still must be debated and approved by the Legislature before going into effect.

“It’s a creative way of looking at it,” Zorc said of rewards proposed by DeSantis for veteran teachers and those whose classes perform well with bonuses, adding that $600 million proposed for increasing teachers’ base salaries statewide would help with recruitment.

At the same time, Zorc said the state often comes up with ideas and incentives that seem great to start – funding them for a few years, but then pawning off the funding obligation onto the individual districts.

“We nickel and dime everything,” she said. “There’s no way to sustain the raises if the state pulls its funding.

She also questioned if the $47,500 base salary proposed by the governor would be enough to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle here in Indian River County given the cost childcare, housing and other living expenses.

“I expect it would be a struggle,” Zorc said.

The current base salary for teachers here is $41,000.

As for the bonuses, DeSantis announced he wants to beef up the Best and Brightest program, which rewards teachers and principals based on a series of metrics on performance and improvement.

He wants Title I teachers to receive a top bonus of $7,500. Principals would receive up to $10,000. At non-Title I schools, teachers would receive a top bonus of $3,700 while principals would receive $5,000.

“It’s all well and good,” said Liz Cannon, president of the Indian River County Education Association, but bonuses are not what teachers need – and the base salary increase doesn’t go far enough.

“What about established teachers?” Cannon asked following the press conference. Raising the base salary helps recruit new teachers, but it does nothing for those already earning that or higher.

And the bonuses won’t help retirement packages or help new teachers get a mortgage when buying a house and putting down roots.

“It’s a flashy program,” she said of Best and Brightest – but it does little to retain teachers.

Instead of shooting for No. 2 in the nation for base salary – what DeSantis has called for at the press conference, offering the $47,500 number – Cannon said the state should strive to be No. 1 for average salary. That would help more teachers.

Florida House Representative Erin Grall was in the audience and heard Gov. DeSantis’ proposal. She said the House will consider all the options and “conversations will be had,” but stopped short of promising legislative approval.

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