PBC teachers union rejects 2.4% average pay raise as “unacceptable”

Palm Beach County’s public school leaders offered teachers a 2.4 percent average pay raise during contract negotiations Tuesday, a proposal that the county teachers union rejected as “unacceptable.”

The school district’s first salary proposal of the year called for public school teachers rated “highly effective” to receive $1,200 raises this year, while teachers rated “effective” would receive $975 raises.

About 60 percent of county’s current teachers are expected to be rated highly effective this year, with most of the rest rated effective.

New teachers and a handful of teachers with lower ratings would receive a $325 cost-of-living increase.

Teachers union President Justin Katz called the proposal “entirely unacceptable,” and district leaders called a union counterproposal to raise teacher pay by an average of 5.8 percent “too pricey.”

Negotiators are scheduled to resume talks on Dec. 19, but the school district’s chief financial officer said that the two sides are still “worlds apart,” raising the prospect of prolonged negotiations.

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The result of the contract talks will determine the pay of the school district’s roughly 12,000 teachers. The contract does not affect the pay of charter school teachers.

The district’s initial offer is smaller than the 3 percent average salary hike agreed to last year, which granted highly effective teachers $1,715 raises and effective teachers $1,365 raises.

District officials blamed the lower proposal on a disappointing spending increase from state lawmakers, one that gave the school district a 2.3 percent funding increase this year while setting aside millions of dollars for teacher bonuses, which will be paid directly by the state.

After the district’s offer, union officials countered with a proposal that would give highly effective teachers $2,400 pay boosts and effective teachers $1,925. Other teachers would receive $500 cost-of-living hikes.

The union’s proposal would also give teachers extra money based on their years of service, an attempt to undo a gradual flattening of the pay scale that has left many experienced teachers making only a few thousand dollars more than rookies.

The union’s proposal was promptly rejected by district officials are unrealistic and too costly.

Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer, said the union’s proposal “would require so much money that we simply do not have.”

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“It’s just too pricey,” he said. “It is outside the school board’s ability to pay.”

The loggerheads could set up a clash between the district and Katz, the union’s new president, a union outsider who won office after campaigning on a promise that he would not tolerate incremental raises.

“I made a commitment to my membership when I ran for election that if elected, the status quo at the district and [the union] was going to end,” he said Tuesday. “That includes tolerating unacceptable contract and raise proposals from the district.”

Separate from teachers’ base salaries, a new state law passed this spring will give all “highly effective” teachers $1,200 bonuses and all “effective” teachers bonuses of up to $800.

But teachers and district leaders have criticized the bonus plan because it’s only guaranteed for a single year and the money doesn’t boost teachers’ pension benefits.

Teacher effectiveness ratings are determined by a combination of student test scores and principal evaluations.

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