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Lawmakers tweak teacher pay raises

The House and Senate tweaked the language on the teacher pay raises Wednesday, meaning educators won't have to wait until June 2014 for their payouts.

The revised language also gives school boards the flexibility to develop their own merit-based systems for awarding salary increases, rather than adhering to a plan developed by the Legislature.

"We all knew that the original language wouldn't work," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association. "It took teachers, superintendents and the governor weighing in for us to make that point."

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Lawmakers first released the language on Sunday, drawing immediate criticism from the teachers' union. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie turned up the pressure Tuesday by holding a joint press conference to express their concerns.

Senate President Don Gaetz was sympathetic.

"Teachers who earn their increases in pay ought to be able to get them as soon as school districts develop a plan to do so, collectively bargain the plan with their unions, and submit their plan to the commissioner of education," the former schools superintendent said late Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott got involved, too, urging legislators to get the money out as soon as possible.

Lawmakers hashed out a solution Wednesday.

Carvalho said he was pleased with the new language. "What was unacceptable to me was that something was promised, but folks would have to wait 14 months to get it," he said. "This has moved dramatically in a positive direction."

Carvalho hopes to see the pay raises awarded as soon as possible, he said. The Miami-Dade school district is already contract negotiations with the United Teachers of Dade.