More than 14,000 Orange County teachers are set to vote over the next few weeks on a compensation plan that sees the majority getting raises — but also comes with an increase in insurance costs.
Orange County School Board members unanimously voted Tuesday, June 25, to approve a new, tentative teacher-salary agreement. The agreement was reached by the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association and the District Collaborative Bargaining Leadership Team. Now, ratification of the agreement depends on the vote of the teachers.
According to district documents, the board’s offer, including compensation and benefits, currently exceeds surrounding school districts. Some of the highlights of the agreement include the 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.
However, many teachers and CTA members present at the meeting were disillusioned by low pay and insurance hikes. Many urged their colleagues to reject the contract in hopes of a better negotiation.
“My concern with this new contract is, how does this help us retain current OCPS teachers who are working very hard, very long hours — on their time off, on time they don’t get paid, and who may not have a stable second income or a stable living situation — in order to make ends meet?” said Megan Kost, a Windermere resident and three-year OCPS teacher who spoke at the meeting.
Fellow OCPS teacher Jessica Moore, a Dr. Phillips resident, said the role of a teacher is priceless.
“Classroom teachers are some of the most academically accomplished and competent people I know,” Moore said. “Why are other industries with less-qualified citizens of our country making more money than teachers?”
The CTA approved the proposed contract on June 20, stating that the district made it clear that it would not budge on reducing insurance increases. The increase is needed to cover an $11 million deficit in the district’s insurance fund, which was created by the payout for some catastrophic claims. That deficit is expected to rise to about $18 million otherwise.
Teachers who only need coverage for themselves still have a no-cost option, but covering a spouse and dependents would raise the cost for family coverage. For this reason, many teachers felt that even with a raise they’d end up with less money.
District 4 School Board Member Pam Gould told educators at the meeting that the board supports them and recognizes that they should be paid more.
“… We have got to be one voice in this and have got to let (legislators) know that you are not paid at market value,” Gould said. “We recognize that. We cannot risk the school district on the other side of that, though. I would love to find ways to offset the health care if we could, but I have to believe with the challenges from the union to us about our dollars that we’ve overturned those stones. I have to have faith in that at some point to move forward.”
Matthew Hazel, a teacher on the union’s bargaining team, said they agreed to the deal because they felt it was the best one they could get.
“Here are the facts on the ground: Seminole, Pasco, Osceola, Volusia — they all got smaller raises than we did and they pay way more in insurance,” Hazel said. “We feel the weight of these decisions. We feel all 14,000 of you and your needs and your families. … Sometimes you have to choose the least-worst option. We heard you, and we defended you. I’m sorry it’s not what you deserved.”
While the ball is now in the court of the teachers who will vote on it, Florida law gives limited power to teachers unions. If there is an impasse in bargaining, the school board will have to make a decision.
“We all agree that Orange County educators deserve higher salaries and better benefits and working conditions,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the CTA. “We cannot recruit and retain quality teachers without them. We live in a state where teacher salaries rank 46th in the nation. We live in a district where the average salary falls below all the five largest districts in the state.
“We were told emphatically there was no more money,” Doromal added. “We signed off on this believing that we couldn’t get a better deal.”
Due to a printer mix-up, the CTA’s original ballots were mailed out to teachers early and with the wrong return envelope. The union said ballots are being resent and will be counted on July 29.
School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs emphasized that even though many teachers might not believe the board members who say they’re valued, the disbelief couldn’t be further from the truth.
“What you do is absolutely the most important thing that any governmental body does,” Jacobs said. “You do it every day in that classroom. … The cost of living has gone through the roof, your salaries haven’t even begun to keep up. If we lose you, we lose the foundation of education.”