Despite Pending Raise, Teacher Salaries Still Lag Other States

While many teachers in the School District of Palm Beach County were hoping for more, the moderate pay raise approved this week will likely please the district’s 12,500 educators, as well as other employees and administrators in the new year.

The agreement, unanimously approved by the Palm Beach County School Board, gives teachers evaluated as “effective” last year 2.75 percent raises, while those rated “highly effective” are in line for a 3.5 percent increase in pay. The tentative raises are retroactive to July 1 and will be the largest that the county’s teachers have seen in four years if ratified by the membership of the Classroom Teachers Association.

District administrators, including Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa, will see 3 percent raises. In all, the raises will tally approximately $30 million.

While CTA President Justin Katz implied he is generally pleased with the final negotiation numbers — and there are some notable improvements over recent contracts — it’s not quite a definitive victory. Since the loss of automatic annual “step” salary increases several years ago, plus increases associated with insurance, teacher raises have not kept up with the cost of living, and many teachers have lost thousands of dollars annually between what they were projected to make and where they stand today.

Factor in higher annual salaries and benefit packages in other states, particularly along the east coast and in New England, and there are significant financial reasons that the School District of Palm Beach County, like virtually every other district in Florida, is struggling to both bring in new qualified educators and retain the educators recently hired.

Katz noted that there “are efforts in the works to address salary compression” which will be dealt with during next year’s negotiations. So possibly, there’s hope on the horizon that teachers’ salaries may bounce back to where many believe they should be on the overall salary scale.

The school district is also contemplating asking residents to support a small property tax increase, with the funds dedicated to teacher salaries in hopes of keeping them in district classrooms. Under the proposal being pushed by Avossa, voters would pay about $25 more per $100,000 of assessed property on their tax bills. If put on the ballot and approved, this would provide about $50 million a year toward teacher salaries.

While it’s easy to point the finger at the school district — and the district is not entirely blameless — at least district officials are trying to be proactive. We’re not sure the same can be said of either the state or federal governments. Many of the problems with funding public education in Florida today — that’s public education as a whole, not just salaries — stems from issues in both Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee. The continued push to use public education funding for charter schools, plus the continued chipping away of money dedicated to districts over the past decade, has led to less financial flexibility for local districts.

Back in April, Avossa encouraged continued communication with state lawmakers, urging them to open the fiscal purse strings and make education funding a priority. With the 2018 legislative session getting underway soon, we urge continued open communications between lawmakers, district officials and other stakeholders, and we look forward to when Florida’s school teachers are truly compensated to where they want to stay in the profession.