St. Johns County superintendent says budget decrease makes it difficult to give teachers big raises

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Teachers and the St. Johns County School District are at a stand-still over pay negotiations.

During a school board meeting last week, St. Johns County teachers took their case directly to the school board. Now, the superintendent is explaining why giving a big pay raise might be difficult.

During his 2022 State of the Schools Presentation, Superintendent Tim Forson said the district’s operating budget, which is used for salaries, is down nearly 6%. And Forson said new funding this year went toward raising the minimum wage for employees to $15, part of a state mandate.

In the end-of-semester update, Forson also laid out how the county’s booming growth is affecting the school district.

“Just in Pre-k through 5th-grade, we have more than 22,000 students which is really more than the total student population 20 years ago, so it just goes to show how fast the growth is.”

More students mean a higher need for teachers. But many teachers in the district now say they’re not getting their fair share in salary in a county where the cost of living is high.

“I do not live in St. Augustine. Why? Because, even 22 years ago, I could not afford to live here on a teacher’s salary. Now, I have no idea how teachers are able to do it,” said Robin Rucker, a 30-year veteran.

Superintendent Forson responded during the meeting, saying it’s not a matter of what teachers might deserve but what the district actually has on hand.

“There is nothing more that, I can tell you that, these five members of this board or myself or any other part of this leadership team would rather do than to be able to pay everyone a greater wage and provide that security and provide that element of satisfaction. In the end, it is going to be a business decision in making sure that we can pay the bills and the costs that come forward,” Forson said.

Justin Vogel, a St. Johns County teacher and head of the St. Johns Education Association’s negotiating team, said it’s the district’s mentality that has to change.

“Because what’s happening is that we’re being treated as an afterthought,” Vogel said. “When there’s money left over, we’d like to give it to you. But we need them to make us a priority.”

Now that the district has declared an impasse on the talks, the administration and the teachers union will argue before a special magistrate set to be selected by Jan. 5.

Ultimately though, that magistrate makes a recommendation but the school board has the final say on how teachers are paid.

As a reminder, last year’s budget for St. Johns County did include a pay increase of up to $3,000 for teachers.

Forson said in last week’s meeting that such a pay raise is not sustainable year-over-year.

The average teacher’s pay right now in the district is just over $51,000.