Salary fight looms, despite deals on parental leave, health insurance

Despite significant progress toward the 2020-21 teacher contracts, negotiators for Brevard Public School and the Brevard Federation of Teachers union remain at loggerheads on salary hikes for district educators.

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Bargaining teams reached tentative agreements in a virtual session Wednesday on major contract pieces including parental leave and health insurance premiums, but could not see eye-to-eye on raises following a district counteroffer of $7,000 for new hires against a bump of only $700 for veteran teachers.

Salary talks were complicated this year by a state mandate, championed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to raise starting teacher salaries to $47,500, or as close as districts could get on their shares of a $500 million state allocation. The mandate lifts Florida to among the highest in the nation for starting pay but was widely criticized for failing to provide commensurate raises for existing teachers and those that fall outside the narrow statutory definition of “classroom teacher.”



a group of people looking at each other: It was the first day if school in Brevard County. At Endeavour Elementary School, 4th grade teacher Tangela Jackson was starting the students off with a couple of one minute math speed tests to see where the students were at and what they retained from third grade.


© MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY
It was the first day if school in Brevard County. At Endeavour Elementary School, 4th grade teacher Tangela Jackson was starting the students off with a couple of one minute math speed tests to see where the students were at and what they retained from third grade.

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The school district’s proposal would see the base salary for full-time classroom teachers jump from $39,226 to $46,650, while those making over the cap would see an annual increase of $709.

More: Teacher contract talks: Salary hikes, parental leave top list of union priorities

The union had initially proposed $45,500 for new teachers and $1,300 for veterans, and would include in the raise “non-classroom teachers” such as resource teachers and media specialists, among others.

Union President Anthony Colucci said the district’s offer amounted to a separate pay scale that failed to reward essential full-time instructional employees with years of experience.

“A classroom teacher in Brevard County for four weeks would be making more money than a media specialist, a school counselor, a social worker in this district for potentially somewhere around 12 to 13 years,” Colucci said. “That’s a big sticking point for us.”

Under the proposal, it also was possible that certain employees with advanced degrees (such as speech pathologists and some school counselors) would be paid less than a new teacher fresh out of college, Colucci said.

Karyle Green, the district’s chief negotiator and head of labor relations, said the district’s offer was shaped by the constraints of the state law governing the allocation, which requires districts to offer “the maximum amount achievable” with the available funds.

“The rules are very specific and it says what you can and can’t do, and so our proposal utilized that allocation in the manner that the legislature dictated,” Green said. 

Green said the district was not offering to supplement the allocation with additional funds — a move that drew sharp criticism from union leaders — because of budget uncertainties amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More: Brevard Public Schools launches COVID-19 dashboard, reports 32 cases in schools in last week

“Enrollment fluctuations were down about 3,000 students. We lost a lot to home school, we know that,” Green said. “Knowing what little we have left doesn’t provide a lot of money that isn’t going to be utilized or planned for cuts … if funding goes down in January” due to enrollment.

“We know we have an extremely hardworking workforce all across the district and we want to do what we are fiscally able to do for our employees,” she added. 

Bargaining teams reached deals on parental leave, which will include five days of paid leave for teachers who have recently had or adopted a child, and health insurance premium hikes.

Employees will now choose from a less-expensive “silver plan” that includes no extra costs but will no longer cover non-emergency services from Health First doctors and hospitals, or a “gold plan” that includes Health First but will see premiums, deductibles and other expenses go up.

Gold plan employees will see monthly premium increases of:

  • $26 for employee-only coverage;
  • $50 for employee plus child;
  • $80 for employee plus spouse; and,
  • $90 for employee plus family.

Colucci said the union was “really excited” about the leave provision, which he called a “first” in the state.

“We feel like our district is leading the way in offering this leeway for moms and dads,” he said. “In upcoming years we hope to expand the parental leave to be even more competitive with private industry.”

Bargaining teams return to the table Monday.

Eric Rogers is the education watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Please consider subscribing to support important local news on education, business, crime and other topics you care about.

Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EricRogersFT.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Teacher contracts: Salary fight looms, despite deals on parental leave, health insurance

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