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Palm Beach County school teachers could see largest pay raise in years

Posted at 12:12 PM, Dec 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-01 13:06:55-05

A breakthrough for Palm Beach County Schools, as nearly 12,000 teachers will get a significant pay raise if they vote "yes” to a tentative contract agreement.

If teachers ratify the contract, the raise for teachers could range anywhere around $1,300 to $2,500, retroactive to July 1.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa told WPTV on Thursday it's not enough but at least it's a start.

"I think it sends a strong message to the community and the teachers that we value what they do," he said. “This tentative deal for salary increases may be the largest increase in the state for teachers."

On Wednesday, the school district reached an agreement with the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association to raise teacher salaries as much as 3.5 percent. Click here to read the full details.

CTA president Justin Katz says it's the highest raise some of these teachers have seen in four years.

"We just went from offering flat dollar raises to all employees, regardless of their experience, to offering true raises," he said.

But the pay raise -- while high -- is not exactly what the district hoped for to help teachers.

"I don't think it's good enough. Living in Palm Beach County, the average cost of homes now, $350,000. It's very difficult for a teacher to make a good living," said Avossa. "It's a good news story for us right now but we are looking ahead at ways to make the teacher salary more competitive in the marketplace."

Katz, who taught government and economics for 10 years at Park Vista High School in Lake Worth, said turnover is still a huge problem the district faces.

"You see teacher turnover every year and they leave the profession for various reasons, usually because of financial constraints," he said. "I can sympathize with any teacher trying to get a mortgage. If you don't have a quality income, you're not going to get a quality mortgage."

Avossa blamed state lawmakers for not funding school districts enough.

"One thing that has become perfectly clear is that the folks that represent us in Tallahassee have not been pro-public schools. Investment has still not reached the 2007 levels," he said. "So if we're not gonna get money from the state, we're going to have to resolve this issue right here in town."

"We certainly came in looking for more," said Katz. "But you have to concede that there's not the resources for a lot more."

In next fiscal year budget, Gov. Rick Scott is proposing $200 per student in the state budget to set aside for school districts across Florida. However, Avossa said that plan could change as it goes through the legislative process.

"The governor, what he proposed last year was good, unfortunately it was cut in half," he said. "So this year again, the governor is proposing what we believe to be a fair increase. But it's got to go through the process with the House and the Senate and that's usually where we wind up losing."

The district is considering increasing the millage in next year's property tax renewal to drum up more money for the district and for teachers.

"The community has supported their public schools before," he said. "We are looking at the possibility at using that tax opportunity to make our teacher pay competitive."

PBC Schools is spending $23 million on these raise out of the current school budget, which included a $22 million reserve for employee salary considerations. That will cover the recurring 3% increase for teachers, which amounts to $21.8 million. 

The tentative agreement reached this week also includes $1.5 million in one-time bonuses for 1,300 teachers left out of the state program.  The district says they will be utilizing a portion of one time funds he has held in reserve from the BP Oil Spill funds and Sprint Spectrum lease to cover this one time expense.  

WPTV is told staff will be working with the superintendent to redirect resources and identify additional funds for other employee group salary increases. 

Between the bonus and salary increase, the average teacher will see a 5.4 percent raise.