Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | July 22, 2021
After a third round of tense salary negotiations, Orange County’s teachers union declared impasse Thursday in its effort to work out a pay plan with school administrators, calling the district’s salary proposal “disrespectful” and “shocking.”
When district negotiators would not offer salaries increases of more than $175, union leaders said there was no point in continuing the current round of negotiations.
“It was really disrespectful,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, which represents more than 13,700 teachers in Orange County Public Schools.
“After a year like no other year in teaching, that this is what would be offered,” she said during the online bargaining sessions that was shown live on Facebook. “The teachers gave so much, and the district offered so little.”
The district’s salary offer included a $25 cost-of-living increase. That, union leaders said, would pay for one gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a few cans of vegetables, a box of cereal, a package of bologna, a bottle of orange juice and one four-roll package of toilet paper.
Teachers would get another $100 if they were rated “effective” or another $150 if rated “highly effective,” under the district’s proposal, for total annual raises of $125 or $175.
“It was just so shocking,” Doromal said. The union thinks most teachers should get raises of $3,000 this year.
The district offered teachers up to $3,500 in bonus and supplemental pay — one-time payments — but its negotiators said this year’s budget provided little room for raises, which add to its recurring costs.
Jim Preusser, the district’s top negotiator, said the union’s proposal for raises would eat up the district’s rainy day fund in two years and would eventually lead to cuts in programs and jobs.
“You’re literally asking the district to come up with $60.6 million,” he said. “From now until the end of time.”
District officials have said OCPS will receive less state money this year than last year but expects to educate about 4,000 more students. The district’s allocation is down $26.9 million or about $289 less per student, they said.
The district must pay for salary hikes that maintain a “fiscally sound” budget, Preusser added, “now and in the future.”
But union leaders said the cost of living has increased in the region and teachers need salary hikes that can help them keep up. The district’s offer amounts to a 0.4% raise for a top-rated teacher earning the minimum salary of $47,500. Bonuses and other one-time payments do not contribute to long-term financial gains nor help when teachers want to apply for mortgages, for example.
They have “recurring bills” and need to know their salaries will help them meet those obligations, said Mark Richard, the union’s attorney.
The district’s proposal made them feel like “their district could care less about them,” he said. “They’re already underpaid; they’re already overworked.”
Hundreds of teachers watched and commented during the Facebook Live bargaining session.
“I continue to work a second job to pay bills,” one teacher wrote. “How can you be a good teacher when you are constantly worried about supporting your family?”
Last year, the state allocated $500 million statewide to boost the minimum teacher’s salary to $47,500, or as close to that as possible in each district. Orange was one of 14 school districts out of 67 in the state — and the only one in Central Florida — that hit that mark.
This year, there is $500 million more to maintain those new salaries and $50 million in new money to pay for salary increases across Florida. District officials said Orange’s share is $2.4 million, which is what they have to put toward raises this year.
But Matthew Hazel, a teacher on the union bargaining team, said the district has more than what’s needed in its rainy day fund. It must keep 3% of its budget in reserves but had nearly 6% last year, district data shows.
CPS is also “flush” with about $857 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds this year, Hazel said, and should have saved money last year because the state sent more than was needed, paying for students who, because of the pandemic, never showed up.
Hazel noted administrators offered bigger raises, such as a cost-of-living increase of $800, in years past when there was no special salary money from the state. So, they could provide it again this year, he said.
“They don’t want to — but they can,” Hazel added.
With impasse declared, the matter could end up heard by a special magistrate or could go right to the Orange County School Board. Michael Ollendorff, a district spokesperson, said in an email that the next steps will be decided after OCPS receives the official impasse notice from the union.
The union is urging teachers to plead for a better offer at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“What kind of district doesn’t budget raises?” Doromal said.
The pandemic made teaching so challenging, she said, and teachers all the more deserving. “They deserve a raise, and they deserve an explanation.”