Leon County teachers meet with members of the school district to negotiate pay raises on Monday night at the Aquilina C. Howell. / Glenn Beil/Tallahassee Democrat
(News-Press.com) - Gov. Rick Scott has sent letters urging school districts to quickly approve teacher pay raises, but Southwest Florida officials say they are almost done and don't need state intervention.
State lawmakers in April approved across-the-board pay raises for Florida teachers. But school boards and teachers unions also must approve the raises as part of their overall, bargained packages. In Lee County, teachers rated effective or highly effective are set to receive about $1,700.
As of Tuesday, at least 17 school districts had approved the money - including Collier County, which voted Tuesday night. Lee and Charlotte counties were among the 50 that had not. In a Tuesday news release, Scott said he asked Pam Stewart, Department of Education commissioner, to provide support and guidance to help school districts come to an agreement.
"Florida teachers deserve a salary increase," Scott said in the release, "and they should have the benefit of knowing their new salary level as soon as possible so they can best plan for their futures."
Lee County teachers are to vote on the raises in the next two weeks, and the school board is to vote Nov. 5. Greg Adkins, chief district negotiator, said he's hopeful the money will be approved. When asked about Scott's letter, he said school funding has become a political vehicle.
"Education is really a local event," Adkins said, "and I really think the negotiations around teachers' salaries (are) something that's best left at the local level."
The negotiation process this year has taken a little longer than usual, Adkins said, because the school district is considering changing the way teachers are paid. But the delay isn't anything unheard of.
Collier County teachers will receive almost $3,600, which includes money the district added on top of the state's contribution, according to Jonathan Tuttle, executive director of the Collier County Education Association.
Bryan Bouton, president of the Charlotte Florida Education Association, said he hopes raises for Charlotte teachers will be approved by next month. The average raise will be $1,700 to $1,800, he said.
Doug Whittaker, superintendent of Charlotte County Public Schools, said he is pleased with the raises and the progress the district is making in negotiations.
"I think there's concern on the governor's part - confusion - as to why this is taking so long," Whittaker said. "But I don't think he understands the process involved in negotiating."
Steve Maxwell, an American government and law teacher at Cape Coral High School, applauded and thanked Scott for approving teacher raises, but he questioned why they ended up being smaller than promised.
Scott originally promised $2,500 per teacher, but additional positions have since been offered the raise, shrinking the amount available.
"I don't want to bite the hand that's feeding me," Maxwell said, "but that's $800 less than what we had expected."
A $2,500 raise would have been about 4 percent of Maxwell's current salary. A $1,700 raise will be about 2.5 percent.