The Ledger | By Kimberly C. Moore | March 21, 2022
BARTOW – Polk County teachers’ union officials are declaring a victory for their members after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Monday $800 million for an increase in teachers’ salaries, including half that sum for veteran teachers.
“As a collective, the Polk Education Association and our union statewide have fought for a ‘Decade of Progress’ and called on the Florida Legislature to ‘Fund Our Future,’” said PEA President Stephanie Yocum. “This year we are seeing the largest investment in public education like none we’ve witnessed in the past two decades.”
Yocum also pointed to two other wins for teachers and support staff.
The Florida Education Association worked with lawmakers to switch the funding percentage for beginning and veteran teachers. In last year’s budget, starting teachers’ salaries got 80% of the increase pie, with the remainder going to more than 200,000 veteran teachers. This year, that split is 50-50, which Yocum says brings more equity in raises for veteran teachers.
According to the Florida School Boards Association, in 2018-2019, Florida had more than 202,000 full-time instructional staff and 122,000 support staff, “making Florida’s public school system one of the largest employers in the state.” With more than 13,000 employees, Polk County Public Schools is the largest employer in the county.
In addition to teachers’ salary increases, the union fought to increase support staff salaries to $15 an hour, four years ahead of the constitutionally mandated 2026 starting salary for all workers in the state.
But Yocum also saw the increase as a possible election-year ploy on the part of the legislature and governor.
“We as teachers, support staff, and our communities at large, urge our State Legislature to continue this momentous investment in our students for years to come not just in an election year because every student deserves a high quality, world-class public education, no matter their background, their zip code, their abilities, or who they are,” Yocum said. “Public education — our students and the staff who educate them, should not be treated like a commodity, but a public good, a service to the greater society, and the foundation of our democracy.”
DeSantis said the increase puts Florida in the top 12% of the U.S. in terms of teacher starting pay being above $40,000, with at least 61 of Florida’s 67 public school district’s at or above that.
Polk County’s teacher salary statistics
Polk County’s starting teacher salary is $45,487, up from $45,172 last year and nearly $41,000 in 2020. The base salary for PCPS’ most experienced teachers will be $64,282, up from $64,072.
Teachers can also earn supplements for holding an advanced degree. They are:
- Master’s degree: $2,671 beginning July 1, 2021; $3,162 effective July 1, 2022
- Specialist degree: $3,708 beginning July 1, 2021; $4,517 effective July 1, 2022
- Doctoral degree: $4,998 beginning July 1, 2021; $6,776 effective July 1, 2022
All eligible employees are also receiving a $1,000 after-taxes bonus for the next three years through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, a federal grant to help school districts during the pandemic.
PCPS Superintendent Frederick Heid also applauded the Legislature and DeSantis.
“The new state budget continues to provide additional funding to help ensure that we are able to ensure that we can offer teachers a salary commensurate with their talent and expertise,” Heid said. “Additionally, the legislature modified the funding to allow districts to address the funding compression that resulted from our initial focus to move starting salaries to the required level.”
DeSantis called teaching Florida’s 2.9 million students “a noble profession.”
“People understand you’re not going to necessarily be a billionaire doing this, but you need to be able to make ends meet,” DeSantis said, adding that there was also an increase in per-pupil funding for counties, which is used to pay teacher’s salaries. “We have a record amount of per-pupil funding in the budget and the highest base student allocation I think we’ve never had. So that gives school districts the ability to do even more and so we’d encourage them to do just that.”
The 2018-2019 budget for kindergarten through 12th grade public education was more than $21 billion, with $7,429 in per-pupil funding. This year the state’s education budget is $22.8 billion, with $7,795 in per-pupil spending. The state adds an average of 25,000 students a year.
Jim Palmer has taught for 21 years. He currently teaches fourth grade at Scott Lake Elementary School.
“I have spoken to many of my seasoned colleagues who were happy with our new beginning teacher salary but felt it was at the expense of the veteran teacher,” Palmer said. “As a union, we brought those concerns to our state legislators, and they heard us. Recruitment is important, but retention is just as important, if not more. Veteran teachers are the backbone and the support system for our new educators.”
There are currently about 160 instructional jobs available in Polk County Public Schools
Palmer credited the relationships the union and teachers have built with local legislators that showed them the need to change the allocation process.
Classroom veteran Michelle Heisig Montero said it’s not enough.
“It took me 17 years to make that starting salary he is giving away,” Montero said. “A brand new teacher with no experience gets what it took me 17 years to earn – keyword earn. Veteran teachers are going to get a chump change improvement in their salary. Absolutely insulting. As veteran teachers, we have to spend time training and helping these new teachers, which again makes our salary increase insulting. As a veteran teacher I am furious.”
Montero said at any company, there would be a rising pay scale for those who have proved themselves.
“I have no clue who thought up this plan but they obviously don’t know what they’re doing and have no clue how it insults and impacts veteran teachers,” she said. “Unless they’re going to give me $65,000 a year, then – again – this is insulting.”