JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Voters in Duval County will decide on August 23, whether the district will raise the county’s property taxes by one millage rate as a means of funding teacher pay increases and improvement of Duval County Public Schools’ arts and athletic programs.
The millage rate increase was recommended by DCPS superintendent Diana Greene as the district faces a shortage of more than 400 classroom teachers and more than 1,000 total staff vacancies across the district.
Duval Teacher United president Terrie Brady said the problem is only going to get worse if something doesn’t change.
“Our teachers and our paraprofessionals, everybody, it’s just -- it’s mind boggling what they’re having to do right now,” Brady said. “The sacrifices they’re having to make -- and our district is trying to do everything they possibly can, but we’re running up against a brick wall, because we’re under the same situation that other counties are.”
Brady said the problem with retention is predicted to escalate further when end-of-the-year retirements arrive.
“You have people retiring at the end of 30 years, you got people that are at the end of DROP, you got people that are being non-reappointed based on state law, … it’s really a very, very bad situation,” Brady said.
A Duval County teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said the full weight of the problem doesn’t appear to be reaching district families.
“I don’t think people realize how this affects day-to-day life as teachers,” the educator said. “We are pressured to cover every single day and my school has 5 vacancies right now. So all of those classes have to have covered every single day by us teachers.”
The teacher told News4JAX that the lack of consistency in the classroom is leading to a lack of focus and an increase in serious behavioral issues.
“Parents need to be made aware of how severe the vacancies are and need to pressure the district to do something to fix this issue,” the teacher said.
Opponents of the millage rate increase have pointed to other recent education funding measures, including the half-cent sales tax for school improvement. However, that revenue is, by law, only to be used for building construction, facility maintenance, and security upgrades.
Some opponents have also noted a recent $800 million allocation from the state of Florida to fund pay raises for teachers. Brady said existing state laws make it really tough for that money to actually land in teachers’ pockets.
“We’ve got mandates that are being placed on 20 different bills about how we distribute salaries, even though we have collective bargaining in Florida,” Brady said. “Zero of those 20 mandates were lifted during the legislative session.”
Brady said the staffing shortage is also affecting charter and private schools in the district and across the state. Other big contributing factors to the shortfall, according to Brady, include more lucrative employment opportunities in other districts or other states, low rates of college and university students graduating into the education field, and increased classroom restrictions.
Duval County is Florida’s only largely urban county that has not passed a referendum on teacher salaries.