- Andrew Marra Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Salaries for Palm Beach County public school teachers would rise by 3.2 percent on average this year under a deal struck by school district and teachers union negotiators Wednesday evening.
Under the agreement, teachers rated “highly effective” would receive 3.5 percent raises and teachers rated “effective” would receive 2.75 percent raises.
For the first time in years, teachers would receive percentage-based raises instead of fixed dollar amounts.
It’s the largest raise in four years for the school district’s roughly 12,500 public school teachers. District leaders touted it as the highest teacher-salary hike reached so far this year among the state’s large school districts.
“We think it’s a great deal,” said Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer. “We think this will lead the state.”
Miami-Dade County’s school district recently agreed to give teachers average raises of 2.65 percent, while Orange County agreed to give teachers bonuses worth an extra 2.2 percent, district officials said.
Wednesday’s agreement came after weeks of rising tensions since the union dismissed the school district’s initial salary proposal — a 2.4 percent average raise — as “unacceptable” on Nov. 7.
The following week, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa blasted the teachers union president, Justin Katz, as “hostile” and “inexperienced,” accusing him of deceiving teachers about contract talks by editing a video of the negotiations.
Avossa later conceded he had no evidence to support his accusation and said a subordinate, not he, had made the claim.
But the two sides came to terms after exchanging several proposals Wednesday. The agreement, retroactive to the beginning of this school year, would cost the school district an extra $23.2 million in salary and benefits this year.
The deal has to be approved by the county school board and teacher union members.
The starting salary for school district teachers would remain $41,000 under the proposal, but first-year teachers would get a 0.5 percent cost-of-living raise. A handful of teachers rated as “developing” or “unsatisfactory” would also receive 0.5 percent raises.
Avossa credited the union and the school board for working toward the agreement but said it was “not enough” to bring teachers to the pay levels they deserve.
“It’s still not enough,” Avossa said. “We’re still not where we want to be.”
Administrators said they were constrained by what they called a low funding increase of 2.2 percent from state lawmakers this year.
District officials suggested Wednesday that they may ask county voters to approve a special property tax hike dedicated to raising teacher pay.
“The political climate in Tallahassee is really not favorable to education,” Burke said.
Katz said he was pleased with the district’s final salary offer, and also with its decision to give percentage-based raises this year instead of flat raises. Doing so generally allows more experienced teachers receive larger raises than less-experienced teachers.
“I think that’s a massive win for teachers to have the district acknowledge that they don’t have to give a 30-year highly effective teacher the same raise as a 3-year effective teacher,” Katz said.
Apart from salary raises, teachers this year are expected to receive extra money through a new teacher-bonus program created by the Legislature.
Under that program, “highly effective” teachers will receive one-time bonuses of $1,200 and “effective” teachers will receive bonuses of up to $800.
The pay package agreed to Wednesday tops last year’s raises, which hiked teacher pay by 3 percent on average.
This year’s agreement would hike salaries by an average of 3 percent but also commits $1.3 million to give one-time bonuses to guidance counselors and other educators covered by the teachers union contract but who are ineligible for the state’s teacher bonuses.
About 55 percent of the school district’s 12,500 teachers are expected to be rated “highly effective,” while nearly all other returning teachers will be rated “effective.” Some 1,150 first-year teachers don’t yet have effectiveness ratings.
Earlier this month, district leaders proposed a 2.4 percent average raise, with “highly effective” teachers receiving $1,200 raises and “effective’ teachers receiving $975.
Katz called that initial proposal “entirely unacceptable,” and district leaders called a union counterproposal to raise teacher pay by an average of 5.8 percent “too pricey.”