The Leger | By Paul Nutcher | July 12, 2022
The Polk County School Board approved raises Tuesday across the district for its educators and support staff, providing starting teachers with $47,500 and a minimum of a 2.25% in pay increases for veteran educators
The board also approved raises to district support staff providing them with a minimum starting salary of $15 per hour.
During a special meeting, the board members unanimously voted in favor of accepting the contracts with Polk Education Association, Inc., which also represents paraeducators and secretarial clerical position.
The governor’s had provided funding for starting teachers’ salaries at $47,500. Starting teachers in Polk were at $45,487 prior to the board approving the new contract.
On March 21, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state would put a record amount of money toward raising teacher salaries with $800 million from the state’s budget. The funding was also targeted for pay raises for veteran teachers.
Veteran teachers in Polk County will go from $64,282 to $65,850 – or a $1,568 increase per contract.
The state budget, dubbed the “Freedom First Budget” by DeSantis also raised per-student funding to $8,143, which is an increase of $710 since the 2018-2019 school year, a press release from the Florida Department of Education said.
By approving the contracts, the Polk Schools pay raises came two years prior to the state mandated deadline, said PCPS Superintendent Frederick Heid.
The session included praise for Heid for quickly overseeing negotiations for a teachers’ contract that had expired on June 30.
“Usually we are working at least a year without a contract,” said Stephanie Yocum, president of PEA.
Heid downplayed his role in the negotiation.
“This happened because of the entire team,” he said. “There are times where I cannot be at the table although I have attempted to be in negotiations every single time.”
The ratification of the contract means that the district’s payroll department can get to work on implementing the pay raises before teachers return to their classroom for the 2022-2023 school year.
Heid said teachers could see the increase in their paychecks by the end of August.
“We are appreciative for this so we can get pay raises and the really amazing language that we got implemented as soon as possible,” Yocum said of the board’s contract approval.
District support staff gained at least a 3% raise, some going from $11 per hour to a new minimum wage of $15 per hour. Members of the AFSCME union covered under this contract includes bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria and maintenance workers.
“It’s lifechanging for some who were making $11 per hour,” Yocum said of the raises for support staff.
Salary details for the district’s non-union employees, including food services managers and administration, could be released in two weeks at the board’s next regularly scheduled workshop meeting.
Polk County is the first district in Central Florida to gain both union ratification and school board approval for its teachers’ contract, Yocum told the board. It is only the fifth district in Florida with dual approvals.