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Fight over teachers salaries hits Clay County

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CLAY COUNTY, Fla.

Clay County school leaders are looking for options to increase revenue while supporting every person in the classroom. The school board is discussing if it will go after a half-cent sales tax to aid in this effort, but the county education association said more needs to be done to keep teachers aside from just a new tax.

Earlier this month, the St. Johns County School District was able to secure funding from a half-cent sales tax to help with capital improvements. While Clay County leaders agree this is a possibility, the main concern is getting the reserve fund balance back up.

The money that would be coming in from the half-cent sales tax helps growing school districts but it can’t be used for operational expenses, which means increases in teachers’ salaries can’t be paid with that revenue.

“Our need is to have a critical operation fund, we need to put it on the operational side. We don’t need the capital; we are not building schools,” Clay County Education Association President, Renna Lee Paiva, said.

At a meeting last week, members of the Clay County Education Association gathered to ask the school board for salary increases.

Paiva said she’s been doing that for months and she’s hoping the school board will consider an increase in the millage rate, which affects property taxes and can go to paying those salaries.

“This year I asked, I begged the school district to put something in the budget, and budget reflects priorities, I begged them to put something in the budget, they did not, so we are at impasse,” Paiva said.

While the Clay County Education Association is not negotiating with the school board this year, an agreement was reached on Tuesday to start the dialogue at a workshop in January.

“What I’ve asked them is that we need to bring all stakeholders together, we need to bring the parents together in Clay County, we need to bring the teachers, support personnel and the superintendent, Mr. Van Zant, needs to get on board,” Paiva said.

She said there haven’t been any salary increases for teachers or support employees, but a report from the school board shows last year, $6.1 million was given to teachers and $800,000 was given to support employees.

“There’s limited resources and we get it, we wish there was more money to go around but there’s not. There’s only a limited pie and those resources have been put in the classroom,” County Commissioner Gavin Rollins said.

Rollins said there is a focus to get the reserve fund balance back up to the state-recommended 3 percent mark.

“There’s a plan to get that back in place, but in that plan is where we have to work with the teachers union and the support employees union,” Rollins said.

The board of education said it wants to work with everyone involved to come to an agreement about what’s best for the future.

“We don’t see it as an us-versus-them, we see it as together coming up with the best solutions to educate the nearly 35,000 or 36,000 students in Clay County,” Rollins said.

The school board and the teacher’s association are going before a special magistrate next month but no date has been set for the workshop in January.