Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | June 27, 2022
Six months after a contentious and protracted labor dispute with its teachers, Orange County Public Schools has reached an agreement to give most teachers a $3,325 annualraise, the largest increase in more than a decade.
“It’s a really good deal,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, which said the agreement reached late last week provided for “historic salary increases” for more than 14,000 teachers.
A budget expert from the American Federation of Teachers, with which the local union is affiliated, helped local union leaders comb through the district’s budget to determine how much could be spent on teacher pay.
“We asked for every single dollar,” Doromal said, “and they gave it to us.”
Still, the agreement, she acknowledged, does not keep pace with inflation, now at more than 8.5%, nor does it provide as much to veteran teachers as they deserve — a point of contention for many experienced educators since Gov. Ron DeSantis began pushing for better starting pay for teachers.
But given that Florida laws dictate many aspects of teacher compensation, the new pay offer from the district pleased the union, she said. Since Florida approved its teacher merit pay law in 2011, OCPS has not offered a better performance pay package to its teachers, Doromal added.
Teachers will vote on the pay plan in coming weeks and if it is approved could see higher pay at the start of the 2022-23 school year.
“I am so pleased that this agreement means teachers can see their well-deserved increases when they return to work,” said Superintendent Barbara Jenkins in an email to employees on Thursday.
Increased state funding this year, and more flexibility on how that money could be spent, helped the district offer teachers more this year than last, said Teresa Jacobs, the board’s chair.
The board has long wanted to do more to boost teacher pay, Jacobs said, and this year wanted better labor relations with its teachers.
Last year, the district initially offered most teachers a $25 cost-of-living increase and $150 raise, a proposal the union termed “insulting” and rejected.
“I’m worth more than $25″ became a teacher rallying cry on social media. The union and the district battled for about six months in bargaining sessions, a hearing with a special magistrate and more than 14 hours of school board meetings in early January before reaching an agreement.
At the time, OCPS leaders said a 3.5% cut in funding from the state, and an increase in student enrollment, left little available for raises.
But during the two marathon school board meetings, board members agreed to a slightly better package than initially offered, proposing most teachers get $500 raises, a $2,500 one-time supplement and additional “longevity” supplements for teachers with five or more years experience.
Those longevity supplements, of $500 to $3,000 depending on years of experience, are to be provided this year and next year, too, paid for with federal COVID-19 relief money.
“What you saw was a board that wanted to do more and to do better by our teachers and the rest of our employees,” Jacobs said.
Watching videos of last year’s bargaining sessions — run by district administrators, not the school board — also convinced Jacobs that teacher pay negotiations could be more cordial than they had been.
A new administrator handled negotiations this month and his team quickly accepted the union’s offer, even offering $25 more than requested for “highly effective” teachers.
The agreement provides teachers with a $900 cost-of-living increase and then a $1,800 pay hike if they are rated “effective” and a $2,425 increase if they are rated “highly effective.” Nearly 93% of OCPS teachers have the top ranking so they will get a total of $3,325 more in pay.
The plan also boosts starting teacher pay from $47,500 to $48,400.
On the union’s Facebook page, some teachers expressed support but others raised concerns.
“Well even though we are far behind where we should all be — this is a far cry better than last year,” one wrote.
“This is a joke with inflation and insurance increases,” another wrote.
“Where’s the respect to veteran teachers?” asked another.
DeSantis’ push to increase starting teaching salaries in Florida to $47,500, a target OCPS hit in 2020, upset many veteran educators across the state who noted his plan left little money available to districts to boost compensation for those already earning more than the new minimum.
That’s because the state law that provided money to boost starting pay required that most of a district’s state salary allocation go to that effort — OCPS was paying new teachers $40,900 before the law went into effect — and then maintaining those higher payroll costs.
That left little available for raises for more experienced teachers, leaving some earning the same or little more than newly hired college graduates.
In 2020, for example, first-year teachers got 16% pay raises to push them to $47,500 and veteran educators got raises of 1.27%. Last year, OCPS teachers with five years of experience earned the same as a brand-new instructor and those with 15 years of experience earned only $6,000 more than the new teacher, officials said.
This year, the state budget included $800 million for teacher pay, a $250 million increase from last year, with half of that $250 million available to hike the pay for more experienced teachers, according to DeSantis’ office.
“We have more money, we have more flexibility,” Jacobs said.