While Palm Beach County teachers enter this school year knowing they will get a raise, just how much more money the district can put in their checks remains unclear.
“At least they are making an honest effort to say, ‘We do have this money.’ Now we can look for other money,” Lynn Cavall, executive director of the Classroom Teachers Association, said Monday.
As the Palm Beach County School District and the union that represents the district’s roughly 12,000 public school teachers district kicked off a new round of contract negotiations Monday, much of the debate centered around the $33.1 million in state money dedicated to giving teacher raises.
The money, part of a $480 million infusion into public schools passed by the Florida Legislature as part of Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal, was meant to give all teachers raises of at least $2,500 each.
But Mike Burke, the school district’s chief operating officer, explained to union representatives Monday that Palm Beach County’s share doesn’t actually give it as much bang for the buck as advertised.
“The money is not going quite that far, mainly because they added more people to the pot,” Burke said.
Right off the top, the district has to give about $2.7 million to charter schools, which receive public money but are run by outside agencies. Their teachers are not members of the union.
Then the district has to take more than $4.3 million of the money for things like federal taxes and pension contributions that increase when teachers’ base salaries go up, Burke said. That leaves about $26 million.
The current debate over the size of raises is in contrast to past years, when the two sides often got bogged down over whether the district could afford to give teachers any raises at all, and teachers protested the fact that the experience-based “step” raises called for in their contracts were frozen for several years.
Scott changed that dynamic with his budget proposal, which originally proposed only using the money to give classroom teachers raises. But the legislature added other groups of employees — including guidance counselors, media specialists, school psychologists, principals and assistant principals — to the list, Burke said.
All of the deductions and added employees thins out the pool of money; so if each of the 13,349 eligible employees is given an equal raise, the money would only pay for a base salary increase about $1,952 per employee, Burke said.
According to the union’s Cavall, Scott said he wanted teachers to get at least $2,500 raises when he called for the additional state funding. And the union’s position is that the district should explore the idea of putting in its own money to make up the difference for at least a $2,500 base salary raise, she said.
To that end, Cavall said the union has requested more information about the district’s operating budget and will examine expenditures — like nearly $2.5 million for new elementary reading textbooks — to find district money that could be redirected to teacher raises.
Burke said the minimum $2,500 raises publicized by the legislature assumed that less than 90 percent of the eligible employees would actually be given raises based on some sort of evaluation formula.
“It’s possible, but only if fewer people will qualify for raises,” Burke said.
Both sides will come back to the table on Aug. 12 to continue negotiations.