Will more negotiations end impasse between district, St. Johns County teachers’ union?

St. Johns Education Association pushing for better pay raise for veteran teachers

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – In St. Johns County, the school district and teachers’ union are once again trying to come to an agreement over teacher pay.

Last December, discussions were stalled after the groups failed to reach a deal.

The most recent deal included a modest pay raise, but the county’s teachers voted against it because they said it failed to meet the teachers’ needs. Many teachers say they can’t afford to live where they work.

The average salary for teachers in St. Johns County is just over $51,000, according to the district. A lot of teachers have said that’s just not enough to make ends meet in a county that’s only getting bigger and more expensive.

Even if both sides are able to come to an agreement Wednesday, it’ll still be up to the district to decide how teachers will be paid.

The St. Johns Education Association is pushing for a better pay raise for veteran teachers.

Kerri Gustavson said St. Johns County’s top-rated schools are what led her to move to the county. But now, as PTA President at Nease High School, she’s noticed a disturbing trend.

“In October, I received notification that one of my son’s teachers quit because he couldn’t afford to raise his family,” Gustavson said. “He had been a long-term teacher that taught two of my other sons.”

Stories like that are why Gustavson launched the “Save Our Schools -- St. Johns County, Florida” Facebook page.

She and others gathered Wednesday as both the district and the county’s teachers’ union shared their sides about teacher pay before a special magistrate, who will then make a recommendation for a compromise deal.

Over the last few months, the district has said the union is asking too much. Union president Michelle Dillon said that’s simply not true.

“We believe they do have the ability to recruit and retain teachers for St. Johns County because I’m very worried about what the future brings for the next school year with teachers constantly walking out the door,” Dillon said.

Dillon went on to say one possible solution could be a millage rate increase, which has been done in other local counties. Gustavson said the time is to act now.

“I think the school district is going to look a lot different next year,” she said.

At last week’s school board meeting, teacher pay was a major topic of discussion during the public comment period.

Many of those who attended the meeting talked about how many St. Johns County teachers are going to other districts because those districts pay better.

The district heard from one man who said he’s going to Nassau County.

“The base pay is a lot higher,” the man said. “It’s very difficult to live on your own down here. And that’s something, I don’t want to live at home with my family to support myself.”

Some teachers are even forced to find multiple side jobs.

“I still need to go to my second job. At least I don’t need to go to my third job, which is pet sitting,” the teacher said. “I have a master’s degree and 24 years of experience, and I scoop dog and cat poop to make ends meet.”

Both sides will make their cases before a magistrate on Wednesday

A school district spokesperson said the special magistrate overseeing the discussions will have some time to consider both sides’ arguments. From there, the special magistrate will submit a recommendation for a compromise to the district and the union.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.