State Board of Education pushes straggling school districts to raise teacher pay

Hillsborough and a few other school districts are at an impasse or still in union negotiations.
Hillsborough County schools Superintendent Addison Davis speaks to the State Board of Education on Jan. 18, explaining why his district has not reached a pay agreement with teachers.
Hillsborough County schools Superintendent Addison Davis speaks to the State Board of Education on Jan. 18, explaining why his district has not reached a pay agreement with teachers. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published March 22|Updated March 23

TALLAHASSEE — Members of the State Board of Education are considering how to put pressure on local teachers union leaders and school board members amid delays in planned salary increases for teachers in some districts.

The state board Wednesday discussed efforts to distribute money approved by the Legislature, including $800 million earmarked in this year’s state budget for raising teacher salaries. That money is part of an effort to raise minimum teacher pay to $47,500.

Adam Miller, a senior chancellor with the state Department of Education, said the department has “fully approved” salary distribution plans for 69 school districts, which include county districts and other types of districts. But he pointed to a handful of districts that are either at an impasse in negotiations with unions or are in negotiations.

The Hillsborough, St. Johns and Seminole county districts are at an impasse, Miller said. Meanwhile, the Gadsden County district is negotiating with the teachers’ union. Gadsden Superintendent of Schools Elijah Key Jr. said those negotiations are “being held up” by union leaders.

Related: Florida officials blame unions as thousands of teachers still await raises

State board member Ryan Petty floated the idea of bringing local union officials before the board because “at a minimum, we’d be hearing both sides of the story.”

“They’re putting the raises that these teachers deserve at risk. So, I’d like to see us bring the leaders of these unions forward. If they believe their case, they can certainly try to make that in a public forum, and certainly in front of this board,” Petty said.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association union, pointed to a complicated process of raising teacher pay.

“We urge the State Board of Education to stand with educators as we call on the Legislature to simplify the process of getting teachers their raises,” Spar said in a statement to The News Service of Florida. “Lawmakers could eliminate some of the 20 laws that currently dictate how teachers are paid, and they can allocate sufficient funds to ensure that educators of all levels of experience are paid fairly.”

Spar added that teachers in Florida are “on average some of the lowest paid in the nation.”

“Teachers with years in the classroom face an ‘experience penalty’ that can leave them making about the same as new teachers,” Spar said.

Lawmakers this year are likely to continue allocating money to raise teacher pay. Gov. Ron DeSantis has recommended that lawmakers set aside $1 billion in the next fiscal year’s budget to bolster educators’ salaries.

State board member Esther Byrd suggested Wednesday that the board turn its focus to districts where salary money hasn’t been distributed. Byrd said that “too often” local school board members “are just way too cozy with the unions.”

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“We’re going to have to put some pressure back on the people who answer to, ‘we the people,’ to ‘we the parents’ in this situation,” Byrd said. “And that’s the school board members.”

The state board is slated to meet again April 19 in the Capitol.

By Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida