St. Johns County district works to raise teacher pay as deadline looms

The district must submit a pay raise plan to the Florida Department of Education by Oct. 1

Desks with COVID-19 dividers in a St. Johns County school (WJXT)

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that set aside $500 million for teacher raises in June, it was largely viewed as a win for educators across the state.

But with already limited funds due to the ongoing pandemic and the inevitably that the raises won’t be equitable for all teachers, some are saying the promise of increased pay isn’t quite what they expected when DeSantis signed the bill.

“The headline sounds great, and it is,” said Justin Vogel, chief negotiator for the St. Johns Education Association, the district’s teachers union. “But this is a good example of why you need to read past the headline.”

In St. Johns County, the school district got $7.9 million that it can put toward bumping up the pay for teachers.

Most of the money, 80%, goes towards increasing the minimum base salary for full-time classroom teachers. The goal is to get starting pay for the nearly 3,000 teachers in the district to $47,500 or the maximum amount possible, as well as give veteran teachers who make more than that at least a 2% raise. But, like other districts in the state, it’s unlikely the St. Johns County School District will be able to get to that number.

The raises will also create an uncomfortable reality for veteran teachers.

A veteran St. Johns County teacher, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions, said the raise shows the state doesn’t care about experience.

“Two undergrad degrees, master’s degree, over 21 years of experience, three Teacher of the Year awards, and I just broke $50,000,” the teacher told News4Jax. “And they are coming in wet behind the ears, and it’s $47,500. It’s just insane. It blows my mind.”

He said the law made him focus more on his other job as a real estate agent and think about leaving the teaching profession.

“They don’t respect me. That’s fine. I don’t have to work for you,” he said.

The district acknowledged that this could create a situation where a first- or second-year teacher could be making nearly as much as a teacher who has been around for 10 years.

The other 20% of the money for raises, or about $1.58 million, goes to increasing pay for positions like student personnel services, librarians, media specialists, along with other instructional staff, which includes about 50% of the teachers in the county.

“Inequitable is inevitable this year, so we are working to mitigate that inequitable distribution of the raise,” Vogel said

All of this is made more difficult by the fact that districts are already dealing with funding shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The district and SJEA are set to meet Tuesday evening to continue negotiations.

The district must submit a pay raise plan to the Florida Department of Education by Thursday, Oct. 1.

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