For the first time in Orange County history, teachers have voted down a proposed teacher-compensation contract.
Following the rejection — by about a four-to-one margin — the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association will begin renegotiations with Orange County Public Schools.
The package agreed upon in June by the CTA and the district included salary increases but also an increase in family health-insurance costs — which many teachers argued would mean less take-home pay than last year.
The CTA mailed ballots to teachers in mid-July, and the final verdict came in Monday, July 29. Out of 4,860 ballots received, 1,017 were in favor of the proposed contract and 3,843 were against it.
According to district documents, some of the proposed contract’s hallmarks included a salary offer representing a 4% increase to payroll; a $500 cost-of-living increase to all teachers’ base salaries; salary increases of up to $2,025 for teachers rated effective or highly effective; beginning salary increase to $40,500; and a $500 one-time, lump-sum bonus.
But many teachers expressed frustration with these numbers, saying there should be a greater focus on teacher pay and education funding.
“I feel and hear from a lot of colleagues that we just want to be paid and treated like professional educators,” said Sharon Roznowski, a teacher at Keene’s Crossing Elementary. “We all have a college education, and a lot of us have advanced degrees. What I’m hearing from my colleagues is they want a true raise. They don’t want piled-on bonuses, and they don’t want the raises in the form of bonuses.”
District 4 School Board Member Pam Gould said she understands the concern is there is not enough money in the base student allocation for the district to keep up with the cost of living. Additionally, the pay-for-performance format the state is driving school districts to implement doesn’t account for bringing teachers to market, she said.
“It’s no secret that there’s a rise in health insurance costs,” Gould said. “No matter how hard we’ve tried to push those down, they continually go up. The rising cost of health care has made it difficult for people to feel like they’re earning more if they have health issues in the family. There’s not enough dollars to cover both those additional expenses and give raises, and that’s the incongruent part of this.”
Gould said the district also has not been getting the inflation dollars that property values have seen, because the local effort keeps getting reduced. The tentative 2019-20 OCPS budget includes a 7.109 millage rate, which is down from the 7.299 rate in the 2018-19 budget. In fact, the 2019-20 millage rate includes a 3.861 required local effort — down from 4.051 in 2018-19.
Now, the CTA will request the district return to the table as soon as possible, according to the CTA.
“We know that being a teacher in Florida is extremely difficult,” wrote Wendy Doromal, president of the CTA, in a statement. “Florida ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay. Florida ranks in the bottom 10 in the nation in funding for public schools.
“Students deserve a certified, qualified teacher in every classroom, not a permanent substitute,” Doromal wrote. “Low salaries, poor benefits and unacceptable working conditions are driving teachers from the profession and reducing the number of education students in our colleges. We must do better.”
Doromal added that health care costs continue to rise nationwide, and the CTA has made repeated requests for changes in the reserves policy — both in meetings with school board members and at the bargaining table. She said the CTA will continue to request changes to the reserve policy to use some of it to cover insurance cost increases.
“Although the district has repeatedly rejected these options, CTA will work with our state union to investigate all possible paths to a better and fairer salary proposal,” she wrote.
Gould said the situation for all parties involved is a double-edged sword. On one end, she said, this down vote highlights the challenges teachers are seeing and brings focus to the crisis.
“Statewide, we’re going to see more and more of this,” Gould said. “The reality is I’m not sure how much more the bargaining team can accommodate the needs of the teachers, because the funding’s not there. In one way, it is a way for the public to begin to understand that this is just unfair to our staff. We don’t have another way to get a revenue source.
“I’m hoping that this no vote raises awareness in Tallahassee to the plight of our teachers,” Gould said.
For now, Gould and the CTA are encouraging teachers to be vocal and visible and to continue to advocate for better teacher pay, benefits and working conditions. A few teacher-centric groups have been popping up on Facebook to keep Orange teachers informed, share ideas and encourage further action.
“What this has given a lot of teachers is the confidence that we can voice our concerns and our needs and feel that that can be the start to some changes,” Roznowski said. “We definitely made an impact, we made history and as long as we’ve got the momentum, then I don’t think there’s any stopping us. I gained a lot more knowledge, which allowed me to make more informed decisions. It’s good to stand up for change.”