ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A group of St. Johns County teachers is planning a show of solidarity to protest pay.
It comes after negotiations between the teachers union and the district stalled because teachers said the raise that the district was offering wasn’t enough.
Teachers are now planning what they call a “Work to Contract Day” on January 25.
Basically, that means teachers are planning to work the hours they are paid for, no more and no less. They said they are not going to go above and beyond anymore until they are paid what they consider to be a fair wage.
In December, the district and the teachers union hit an impasse, meaning an agreement could not be reached between the two sides. The district’s final offer was rejected by 77% of teachers who say it didn’t increase the pay enough for veteran teachers, especially in a county with a high cost of living.
29-year veteran teacher Karen Fluman was one of the teachers who spoke out during a school board meeting last week.
“I am asking for fair compensation for all teachers and a livable wage,” Fluman said.
According to the school district, the current average teacher salary is just over $51,000.
Michelle Dillon leads the teachers union which has about 1,700 members, more than half the teachers in the district.
“Teachers work untold hours after school and on the weekends unpaid. And they do it for the sake of their kids, because there’s just not enough time in the 7.5 hour day. So they go home and answer emails, they communicate through Schoology. They grade projects, it’s nonstop,” Dillon said.
The protest will start with one day and increase to multiple days in the coming weeks until a deal is reached.
Florida law prohibits teachers from going on strike.
Dillon says she knows there will be critics of the move but says the protest will not interfere with students’ education.
“If it can’t be accomplished in the 7.5 hour day, then maybe too much is being put on the teachers’ plates,” Dillon said.
It’s not clear yet how many teachers will participate.
News4JAX asked the district if it had a reaction to the protest but it declined to comment.
Both the union and district have agreed on a mediator to help with salary negotiations.
A hearing should happen by the end of February.
On Wednesday, state education leaders heard updates from superintendents in several districts that still don’t have collective bargaining agreements struck with their teachers.
St. Johns County is one of those districts, along with three others.
At issue is salary, mainly the pay rate for those veteran teachers who didn’t get the benefit of those recent state-funded pay raises.
The districts argue that they don’t have what the teachers unions are asking for, but the unions say they would if they reprioritized their spending plans.
“We need to work towards common ground and an agreement,” Superintendent Tim Forson said Wednesday at the board meeting in Nassau County.
Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz accused union leadership of causing delays to district operations.
“They need to stop delaying that. And if they’re the delay, they need to figure out how to get out of the way,” Diaz said.
Forson suggested that the process for how these deals are struck is ripe for some changes.
“Hopefully over time, because it’s a great benefit, it is a tremendous benefit that helps to retain and recruit teachers. So if we can work through refining how that happens, and how that distributes. It’s better for everybody,” Forson said.