Episode 2: Payable Divisions Transcript

You’re listening to Educating from the Heart. Thank you for joining our lively conversations with teachers, support professionals, parents  and students as they share issues that matter most in our public schools. Here are your hosts Tina Dunbar and Luke Flynt.

Tina: Welcome and thank you for joining us. I’m Tina Dunbar with my cohost Luke. Hi Luke. Introduce our guests and why they’re here.

Luke: Sure, Tina. We have a great group of people lined up for our listeners. From St. John’s County, we have Michelle Dillon, president of the St. John’s County Education Association. Alongside her is Justin Vogel, a high school advanced placement teacher [and member of the St. Johns Education Association Bargaining Committee].

Over in the panhandle, Dave Galloway, the president of the Jackson County Education Association, will be joining us.

And from the center of the state, Stuart Klatte and Kathy Smith, who are the president and vice president, respectively, of the Lake County Education Association.

All of them are here to talk about House Bill 641, which is the Teacher Salary Allocation that you’ll hear us refer to as the TSA. The TSA was $500 million for teacher raises, which sounds really good, but it came with a lot of strings. The most onerous of those strings is that 80% of the funds had to be spent on new educators.

That has left veteran teachers feeling rightfully unappreciated and unvalued.

Tina:  Yes, it’s an interesting and topical conversation on a subject some listeners may have recently noticed in their local news. But, first Luke I think we need to acknowledge our program change. You know, we planned to provide a 2020 review, but while preparing for the show, we stumbled upon this timely discussion about teacher raises.

So, for this episode, we’re going to share a conversation on how the state’s plan to increase teacher pay is working out for teachers and school districts.

Luke: And while you’re listening, our guests are going to get into the weeds. So, you might hear some unfamiliar terms like the BSA, or base student allocation. You’ll hear about salary schedules and steps and compression of the salary schedule.

Tina:  Wow. That sounds like a lot. Please hang in because this really is a good show — you just got to get through the first couple of minutes. Now this is also a perfect opportunity for me to promote our show notes page. Listeners will find additional information and resources from each episode. And for this episode, called “Payable Divisions,” listeners will find a list of definitions and terms used during the show.

Now don’t forget to check our Educating from the Heart show notes page at feaweb.org/ podcast. Okay, Luke, I think we’re ready to get started.

Luke: We’re here really to talk about the teacher salary allocation.

Governor DeSantis went all around the state promising a $47,500 starting salary. But, of course, that is not actually what happened.

So, Michelle, maybe we’ll start with you and then just go around. If you could tell us what did happen in your district.

Michelle Dillon: Okay. Thanks, Luke. In St. John’s County, we negotiated to raise the base to $45,535. So we didn’t quite get to the $47,500. If your raise didn’t quite reach 2%, then [we’ll] equalize it to make it 2%.

Some people got a $800 raise. And those above $45,535 got the $1,000 raise and a $600 one-time bonus.

Luke: Thank you. Dave, over in Jackson County. What’s it look like?

Dave Galloway:  You know, when the good news landed about the money coming we did quite a bit of research and spent a lot of time talking with members, getting information out to members that (a) nobody’s getting [$47,500] and (b) going to great details to explain the [teacher salary allocation] and the deep impact that would have on our veteran teachers; that most of the money would be [for] new teachers.

First year teachers ended up with a 17% raise with our new base salary of $40,751. And that raise decreased as you got up to year nine, which was the step that was already at $40,000.

So education was a big part of this. We ended up with, like I said, the new base of $40,751, with everybody above that getting a $1,500 raise in recurring funds. Meaning that there would be $865 added to…  each step on our plan. And then a teacher would move up a step into the next step for them.

And there’s a $650 differentiation between steps. That worked out to, like I said, $1,500. If you’re topped out at [step] 25 — or 25 plus [since] we had to create a step last year to get rid of some compression issues) — the teachers that are topped out will see the $835 increase to their step and get a $650 one-time non-recurring bonus.

Luke: All right, thank you. And Stuart over in Lake?

Stuart Klatte: In Lake, because of our salaries being lower than the norm in this region and a school board that is [the] classic “whatever the legislature says we have to deliver” … it was a little uphill battle of trying to negotiate anything outside of the strict parameters of the legislation. But we were able to get our base rate up to $44,750.

The sad part is they wouldn’t let us stagger anything. So what that meant was a compression of new [teachers’ salary] through [those] teachers with about a 12 or 13 years’ experience all making the same money. And due to some of the actions, both at the negotiating table and through our members, we were able to guarantee the people above the $44,750 [would receive] a 2% increase, because originally the school board didn’t want to really put any school board money into this plan.

Luke: So  what it sounds like is that everybody is getting some money, but that there are going to be terrible inequities. How did the folk in the classroom feel about that?

Dave: In a word my veteran teachers are pissed because they’re looking at a complete disregard by the legislature to their time actually in the classroom. I’ve had more than one veteran teacher tell me that “the the big money new teachers are going to have to figure this stuff out by themselves”. You know that’s more reaction to the slap from Tallahassee. At the end of the day, we’re going to do what we do and help who needs to be helped to be an effective teacher in our classrooms.

But, you know, it’s just a rift. But everything Tallahassee does is done with purpose and intent and here we are. You want to see the worst in people? Put a giant bag of money on the table and try and figure it out.

And that’s again what’s happened here. And this is why it was really imperative that the district kind of stepped up. Our, our initial offer from district was a $792 increase with $574 left from the 20% of the TSA money. And they were willing to add $217 to the pot.

And, we told [them] that was an absolute non-starter. This is where the member engagement piece came in. And we were able to make the argument that the damage that would do to the morale of the veteran teachers really got us to the settlement that we’re voting on on Thursday.

Tina: Yes. I was thinking about morale. Teachers already shoulders so much with the pandemic. I don’t think anybody thinks about how all this stuff impacts them, their work and even students.

Dave:  Here’s an email I got from a veteran teacher: “Why are veteran teachers at 25 years plus only at $10,000 more than newcomers? THIS IS NOT FAIR AT ALL! I am so fed up with this and glad that I only have a small way to go [to retirement]. I do not agree at all.”

Stuart: And we know in our district the push is for collaboration between our experienced and new teachers within grade levels and within subject matter. And we know that it’s our experienced teachers who were carrying the brunt of the collaboration, the lesson planning, guiding new teachers to get them to increase their instructional practice.

And this plan where if you’ve got 13 years’ experience and you’re making the exact same money as someone walking in off the street is very disheartening, it’s very aggravating. And like Dave we have some who are reactionary saying “I’m not helping anymore.”

Tina:  Have you lost members as a result of this? What happened?

Michelle:  I can tell you we’ve had at least 10 cancelations so far. Some people don’t realize that the big picture. I’ve been yelled at, [been told] it’s my fault, [been told ] “I don’t want to be part of a union that can’t negotiate more”. They [veteran teachers] are just angry, just straight up angry.

Justin Vogel: It’s hard for people to decipher what part of this is Tallahassee’s [fault] and what part of it is that the local district school board. It’s hard for people that aren’t doing this [negotiating] every day to follow. But if you look at — and Michelle mentioned the big picture — in the state of Florida the newly elected governor is looking at kind of a tumbling position in average teacher salary. We got to 47th and you know, if you’re the governor of a state and you’re in 47th place, they don’t like that.

And so at one way to increase the average teacher salary is to do it from the bottom. So it’s not that inequity was inevitable. While that is true inequity was inevitable with House Bill 641, inequity was the point. Inequity was with purpose. They pass this law with intention.

Your veteran teachers have higher salaries, they’re not getting increases. They are, your veteran teachers are union members, newer teachers often are not. You know, they can’t afford it at $38,000 [or] $39,000 a year — maybe now though they’ll join. But my point is, this was intentionally passed in order to divide [teachers] into camps: veterans versus new teachers.

Luke: Yeah, we know what the legislature’s stated reason was right? Not their actual reason, but their stated reason is that this would help with recruitment [of teachers to the profession].

And I’m wondering—I can see already the expressions on your faces—people are not beating down the doors of the district office to start being teachers now?

Dave: Well, I think we’re going to see an uptick, especially in Jackson County, because $40,000 is real money up here. I mean that’s considered a chunk.

So what’s going to happen is you’re going to have teachers coming in, but the — what I call the churn and burn rate — it’s not going to be five years now, it’s going to be two to three years where people are going to be like, “you know $40K’s not enough, I’m out.”

And then we get new teachers, [then] new teachers, [then] new teachers, and it’s going to further destabilize our profession because you’re going to have one-and-done, two-and-done, maybe three.

Luke: And how will that impact students?

Dave:  Well there you go. If you do not have — I often call teachers the cadre of education, right? These are the guys that, I mean, these are people that have forgotten more about teaching than I’ll ever know because of their time in the classroom.

And that time that they’ve had the hone this craft that is not honored or even thought of by Tallahassee. And it’s going to be further degradation of the whole craft [of teaching].

Justin: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a Commissioner of Education who has called teacher unions “evil”  would push for legislation that has a [severe] negative impact on union membership.

I’ve got 1,400 [veteran teachers] out of the 2,650 [total number of teachers in St. Johns]. 1,400 that are in that veteran group. You know, that that’s half. And they’re — to use Dave’s word — they’re pissed.

That’s intentional. Richard Corcoran wanted this to happen.

Tina: So, Kathy, tell us about your member engagement efforts in Lake County.

Kathy Smith:  Well, we tried to get our members [active] and many of them did. They started writing emails to the school board and many of them were on Facebook.

A couple of teachers actually started a collaborative group that they were supposed to help each other [with distance learning and teaching during Covid] and so forth and it did help. But at the time when they were talking about that, then things [with the TSA] started to ramp up.

But I think some of the school board members did finally realize that there is a big difference between what is happening. To be honest with you, we also had a new board member come on board also. We think that kind of changed a little bit possibly.

But many of the teachers were not understanding why we had professional managerial people [and staff] — and no offense to staff because they deserve it because they don’t get no money either — but both were getting a 2% raise all across [the board]. But yet [the teachers] did not.

Stuart: Many of the teachers didn’t, yeah.

Kathy: And so ours was kind of staggered. It was those that did not get up to the $44,750 was 1%, 1.5% and then 2%. Because the board was only willing [to put in] about $80,000 and that’s all they were willing to do to put up with the other money, the state money.

And after conversations, after emails, Facebook, different things, they came back and said they would at least go up to the 2% for everybody, which supposedly affected 917 teachers. [That] is what they presented at the bargaining last week and they said it helped those people. But of course it’s not going to be very much because some of them, you know, even a 1% [raise], a half a percent or 1% [raise] to make them up to the 2%.

So it’s not that much that they’re going to get, but it does make it even now with what everybody else had received.

Tina: Does it close the gap?

Stuart: No, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Kathy: [Laughter] Right direction at least. To go along with what some of the others have said, they’re not wanting to — and Stuart even alluded to this — [the school board] are not wanting to give up anything for experienced teachers, which we don’t really understand.

We asked for — there’s a lot of talk about the longevity supplements — you know, something to give to our veteran teachers so that they don’t have the 13, 14 years’ experience and getting the same amount as everybody else. But so far that hasn’t gone over either.

It is very, very poor of the legislators to come up and make all these inequities [for] somebody that’s [been] teaching for 12, 13, 14 years but yet they’re making the same amount of somebody coming in. And many of them coming in, they’re not coming in from the education field. I don’t know about you, Dave, but they’re not. …

As Dave said, the money, $40,000 to someone — well, here it’s $44,750 — that’s a lot of money in Lake County. I mean, they’re coming in, but we see a lot of them leaving.

Tina: And they don’t have the same experience either.

Kathy:  They don’t have the same experience, no. And many of them, you know Dave was saying, they stay two or three years.

I don’t know about you, but we’ve had many that don’t stay that long. We’re up to right at 25 teachers that have started the year and they’re already gone.

Tina: Well, it’s clear the state has created a divisive pay plan that pits experienced teachers against their less experienced peers. And it backs the district up against the wall by creating another huge financial burden. How should we hold state leaders accountable?

Dave: I think it has been clear over the last few sessions that while the frontal assault on education continues there’s also the probing or skirmishes, if you will, with the school board.

They’re talking about… setting term limits for school board members. They’re talking the big funding shell game every year. [In] our County 85% of our school board funding comes from state dollars. We don’t have beach money. We don’t have a lot of tourist money. We’re completely — I would say a hundred percent —dependent upon what flows down from Tallahassee.

So our board members are very intimidated by the way the whole funding piece is set up here. It’s just really hard [because] they will not engage the Department of Education and will not engage Tallahassee because Lord knows we don’t want to make ‘em mad.

Justin:  They raised the [base student allocation (BSA)], but the increase to [Florida Retirement System (FRS) contributions] alone eats up the increase to the BSA this year.

Dave: That’s it, right! And when I try to explain to members that even though the BSA went up, all that money’s already been accounted for. And it’s always a hard sell. But — and I hear it all the time — “what’s the union doing about this?” The issue is not with the local union, it’s with the people that you elect to Tallahassee every year.

We’re not a firewall. We’re not the last chance brigade here. It starts in the ballot box. And when public education — I’m not even going to say advocates — public education supporters get elected to public office, this is going to lessen the burden on local action here at the district. But until that happens, you know, it’s one action after another.

Stuart:  And I think this whole thing is kind of opening the door to the state legislature setting teacher and school salary schedules the way they do in 17 other states that pay teachers less than Florida. [There] the state sets the salary schedule.

And I’m afraid that this whole dichotomy that’s been created is kind of opening the door for that discussion that we need to watch out for. Because that would devastate collective bargaining.

Tina: That’s a very good point. So as we move into the legislative session, what will we ask our legislators to do? What’s the ask?

Stuart: I think it’s got to be, to continue on the path. If you want [the average teacher salary?] — whatever it was…

Tina: $47,500

Stuart:  …then, you need to continue with the money and continue with the funding and, realize that the experienced teacher is really the backbone of our public education system.

Luke:  So, is the desire then that the legislature mandate certain amount of whatever funds they dictate this upcoming year go to veteran teachers to sort of help do away with the inequity that they created? Or should the folk up in Tallahassee just finally practice what they preach and restore local control?

Dave: Local control is the answer. I mean it always comes down to local control because my district is different than Michelle’s district is different than Stuart’s district.

They’re just, I mean, the framework’s there but the day-to-day is just vastly different than what we have to deal with. And the local elected officials need to be the one, they need to be the shot callers with that not some guy over in Tallahassee.

Stuart: If we’re going to increase BSA, increase local control, increase, equitable funding for schools, that’s going to have to come from a multipronged approach, dealing with the school board, legislature, and the administration at the state level.

Michelle: I agree with Dave that the ask is for local control and adequate, equitable funding. I think we need to look more to our members to get them involved. And I’ve got some members on my radar who are so pissed off about this bill that they want to get involved — even if it’s virtually at the delegation meeting coming up.

Tina: Yes, Michelle, but St John’s is a wealthy county with a solid property base. Yet even with the district adding more money, it did not make it to the $47,500 finish line. That should send a strong message to parents and the community about school funding.

Michelle: There’s some level of complacency with our parents and our community members, because they’re just so thrilled to be in the number one county. They bury their head in the sand and everything is just fabulous here. So, they don’t realize what goes into funding and how complicated this is.

Justin: Well, it says something about our school district. One of the things that we fight against is  they align with Tallahassee in some ways.

Now [the district is] pointing to them saying that this bill is bad, that’s another thing. But they align with them in the sense that they don’t value, at least not to the extent that the people on this call do, they don’t value experience.

And they bring them in low and then give them modest raises.

And so we don’t have—our average salary is about $2,000 under the state [average]. I mean, there’s a reason for that. And it’s not because we negotiate terrible raises. We do a good job, but they bring them in [to negotiations] so low that even “good” raises don’t get them up to where they need to be. So no, we’re not in the best shape.

They could have, this bill could have been great if they put $500 million without the categorical constrictions. If they had just done that, just get rid of the 80/20 ratio, none of this would be — we wouldn’t be on this call.

So, to Dave’s point, until you vote them out, you’re going to get more of the same.

So we keep beating it back, beating it back and making it not as bad as it could be, but that’s a hard sell to members. Again, by design.

Luke: Governor DeSantis has said he wants to keep the money for the teacher salary allocation flowing but ultimately it is the legislature who makes the budget. And with the pandemic right now and the loss of state revenue who knows what’s going to happen next year.

Tina: Yeah, but Luke this is the result of the state constantly underfunding the public school budget and allowing teachers’ salaries to drop so far below the national average.

Also, HB 641 became law in July of 2020 that’s like six months past. And you would expect teachers to return to school, expecting to receive that big chunky raise. But you know, the state hasn’t fully released all the funds to the school districts. So, many school boards have been juggling their district finances — even dipping into the reserve funds — to advance the salary increase to their teachers while they have to wait for the state reimbursement.

Luke: All right Tina, as we move into the new year and the second semester of school let’s look ahead. What’s up in January?

Tina: Well, you know, most of us look forward to warmer temperatures in the spring — at least I do — but it’s a nervous time of year for a little more than half of our teachers here in Florida who are considered to be annual contract (AC) teachers.

Spring is the season for the color pink and Florida teachers receive pink slips. I know it doesn’t make sense, but the state allows districts to release or let ‘em go at the end of the school year.

Luke: That’s just ridiculous. I mean even though many of the AC teachers get their jobs back, the stress that they’re under; the fear that they face knowing that they could be [rated] “highly effective” and still lose their job, you know that contributes to the teacher shortage. It seems like if we could end this practice that might help to solve at least that problem.

Tina: Well, I guess we’ll have to find out during our next episode of Educating from the Heart. Thank you for listening and we hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. And don’t forget to check our show notes page and encourage your colleagues and friends to go to feaweb.org/podcast to subscribe.

Luke: We would love to hear from you. Please email your feedback, ideas or suggestions for future shows to heart@floridaea.org. That email address again is heart@floridaea.org. Or you can call and leave a voice message at (850)201-3384. Again, that’s (850) 201-3384. Hope to hear from you.

Tina: And a big thank you to our guests and listeners. Until you tune in again, keep educating from the heart.

Andrew Spar: Hi, this is FEA president Andrew Spar. To stay on top of all the latest news and issues impacting our public schools. Be sure to follow FEA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more information on this podcast visit feaweb.org/podcast.

Educating from the Heart is a production of the Florida Education Association. FEA is the statewide educators union with more than 150,000 members, including teachers, education, staff professionals, higher education faculty, graduate assistants, students preparing to become teachers and retired educators.

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