Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Ryan McKinnon | November 10, 2021
Teacher and employee pay is at the center of ongoing talks between the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association and the Sarasota County School District, with the two sides still far apart in their offers but optimistic they can get a deal done soon.
The union is asking for across-the-board 6% pay raises, pointing to the challenges of the COVID-19-dominated past year and the district’s $95.6 million beginning reserve fund.
The district is countering with $2,500 bonuses for all teachers and a $1 per hour raise for hourly employees, cautioning that the fund balance has increased because of one-time savings and COVID-19 reimbursements.
“They have more money than Bank of America,” said SC/TA President Pat Gardner.
“After all the work the teachers did, putting their lives on the line, and that’s all they offered them…I was so disgusted” by the district proposal, she added.
“They have more money than Bank of America.”SC/TA President Pat Gardner
Union officials largely object to bonuses over salary increases because the bonus amount does not get factored into raise calculations for future years. The supplement this year is worded to factor into teachers’ retirement plans, Gardner said.
Chief Operations Officer Jody Dumas said the district was “open to the conversation” of raises instead of bonuses, and he acknowledged that the bonus offer was the district’s opening position, but also cautioned against reading too much into the large reserve fund as a salary source.
“We always have got to be cognizant not to pull a recurring cost from the fund balance,” Dumas said.
In a follow-up email, Dumas said there were three primary forces driving up school district reserves: Employment positions going unfilled, the state not reducing the district’s funds if fewer students showed up last year than anticipated amid COVID and a one-time influx of federal funds to offset COVID-19 costs.
“We always have got to be cognizant not to pull a recurring cost from the fund balance.”Sarasota Schools Chief Operations Officer Jody Dumas
Contract talks have been ongoing throughout the year, but it is entering the time of year that deals typically get done.
Teacher contracts run from July 1 to June 30, but school districts do not know how much funding they will receive until the fall.
Because of the timing, the union and district rarely finalize teacher contracts until the middle of the school year, and staff often receives a mid-year retroactive paycheck to account for the pay bump they would have been receiving if the raises had been finalized at the start of the year.
The average teacher salary in Sarasota last year was higher than any other district in Florida, at $61,640, according to Florida Department of Education data. A 6% raise on top of that current salary would come to a $3,698 bump, compared to the district’s offer of $2,500 per employee.
SC/TA executive director Barry Dubin said the SC/TA requested the 6% raise per employee based in part upon a 5.9% cost of living adjustment that all Social Security beneficiaries will receive beginning in January.
Talks are scheduled between union officials and district leaders throughout November. Once a deal is reached, it has to be ratified by a majority of staff regardless of union membership, and then approved by the School Board.
Past contract outcomes:
2020-21: All staff received at least a 3.5% raise and the starting salary increased to $47,500.
2019-20: Highly effective teachers got a 4.25% raise, effective teachers got a 3.25% raise, and non-instructional staff got 3.75%.
2017-18; 2018-19: The union and district struck a two-year deal lasting from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019. Under the deal, highly effective teachers received 4.25% raises, effective teachers received 3.25% and non-instructional staff received 3.75% raises.