PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County public school teachers will soon take home more money in their paychecks.
School board members on Wednesday approved up to a 3.5% raise for teachers, depending on their effectiveness rating, along with a $1,500 bonus, calling it the best deal in the state.
But is it enough?
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
"I think they are all working to do what's best for the teachers," said Dr. Eric Jourgensen, a teacher at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington.
Jourgensen said he's appreciative of the 3.5% pay hike in place for Palm Beach County teachers.
"How many other professions can say they shape and mold the future of the world? And you kind of need to focus on that," Jourgensen said.
But for fellow Palm Beach Central High School teacher Lena Settembre, the raise is not enough.
"I have never worked so hard in my life. I'm telling you, it was just horrific the amount of work," Settembre said. "To me, when I first heard it, I thought, slap in the face. Again, for all of our hard work and effort."
Settembre would have liked to see 6% because of the cost of living.
"Some teachers are finding it hard to pay their rent. They are moving in with their parents because of the cost of living," Settembre said.
"Some teachers will still say it's not enough. What do you say to those teachers?" WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County.
"I understand inflation, 7 1/2%. Rents are going through the roof. Housing is going through the roof. But our funding is determined by the state and I'm incredibly proud of the deal we were able to provide them," Burke answered.
Burke said that with lower enrollment numbers — which drive school funding — the district stretched as much as it could.
"Florida is a tough place to be a teacher," Burke said. "We’re 45th in the nation in terms of funding. There’s loads of accountability. And now there’s legislation that potentially puts teachers at risk of being sued on a personal level. But I will say, our school board in Palm Beach County, with our referendum that provides additional compensation, we're doing everything we can. We support our teachers. We want to pay them as much as possible, but we do have limitations."
So where does Palm Beach County stand?
The average teacher salary is the highest in the area — also the biggest district — and higher than the state average.
"They don't have to give anything. So the fact that they gave what they gave is a positive," Jourgensen said.
If the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers' Association approves the deal, teachers will see the money in June with the $1,500 bonus, and the raise retroactive to July 1, 2021.
Nationally, teacher salaries in Florida are near the bottom.
According to the National Education Association, the Sunshine State ranks 49th with an average salary of just over $49,000.
However, Florida Department of Education data shows the average teacher salary during the 2020/21 academic year was $51,166, which ranks 45th in the country.