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'We’ve had nothing but slaps in the face': Experienced Manatee County teachers feel disrespected by salary increases

Manatee County is working to increase salary for all teachers, but the recent increase mostly benefits newcomers.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Manatee County's school board recently approved salary increases for teachers in the 2020-2021 school year, but long-time educators are calling the decision a slap in the face. 

$8.4 million was allocated for the pay raises, according to Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association. Of that money, 80 percent was earmarked to increase the pay of teachers who were making under $47,500. The remaining 20 percent could be used for anyone else.

In Manatee County, the approved increases will raise the pay for a new teacher to $51,630, which is a $5,000 increase.

It's one of the highest pay amounts for starting teachers in the state of Florida, according to Manatee County School Board member Dr. Scott Hopes.

Barber says the salary increase mostly benefits newcomers and is a slap in the face to more experienced teachers.

“It had a very negative affect on our salary schedule. The effect is called compression,” Barber said. “It brings people with less experience up in pay, closer to those with more experience. And, it gives the people in the beginning of their careers a higher increase this year than those who have been here longer.”

So, someone who has been working as a teacher for 10 years will be getting the same salary as a new hire straight out of college.

“We’ve had nothing but slaps in the faces from the legislature and the governor and the commissioner of education,” Barber said.

“The fact that they made beginning teachers a priority for increasing salaries is just another sign that they don’t understand.,” Barber said. “They talk about the value of teachers and public education and how public education fuels the economy, so we’re essential. But they are not supporting us in ways that could send us that message.”

On top of that, she says teachers were forced to return to the classroom with concerns over health and safety due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We’ve lost a lot of teachers because they chose to stay safe rather than return to the classroom,” Barber said. “That’s a horrible choice for someone to have to make.”

Barber says in her opinion these pay increase goals were an overreach by the legislature.

“The governor’s goal was to have the highest beginning teacher salary in the nation, or close to the highest, and that’s only one part of the picture.”

She says the focus shouldn’t just be on recruitment, but also retention.

“There’s no doubt that experience counts in education, just like it does in almost every profession,” Barber said. “We have to retain teachers. We can’t just constantly be trying to recruit them.”

Barber says enrollment in the colleges of education is down by 60 percent,

“People are not choosing to go into education,” Barber said.

She says the district has actually been recruiting a lot of teachers from out of state who have retired, wanted to move to Florida and then decided to go back to work.

“We have to be able to pay them,” Barber said. “We have to be able to compete.”

Hopes says they will be allocating money to longstanding teachers, but the money isn't there to increase everyone's salary with the same amount. He says the goal is to start with a competitive salary to bring more teachers in.

“The way this year’s bargaining was required to be done is going to make next year’s negotiation even harder,” Barber said.

But, she says the teacher’s union plans to renegotiate higher salaries for seasoned teachers next year.

“This certainly isn’t encouraging experience people to stay in the profession,” Barber said. “It’s not giving them a reason to stick with it.”

She says the union will do what they can to give teachers what they deserve.

“Carving out the people you want to recruit who are at the start of their career and forgetting about the experienced people does not help the students achieve more in our public schools."