A day after announcing his proposal to give full-time public school teachers a $2,500 pay raise statewide, many Florida teachers are questioning Gov. Rick Scott’s true motives in increasing educators’ wages.
Given that he helped engineer a $1.3 billion cut to public school funding in 2011, later reversing his decision, and called for a three-percent pension cut in teachers’ pay last year, teachers doubt whether or not this new proposal is a political ploy to garner votes.
“I believe that there is, very likely, political agendas behind it,” said Melissa Pfeiffer, president of the Citrus County Education Association. “But I also believe that he has felt the pressure from the state because it is an essential importance for our students in our state to have highly qualified teachers in every school and every classroom in our state.”
Others, like Chris Curry, believe that the governor’s proposal should not only benefit teachers, but other employees of the public school system as well, who he says haven’t gotten a raise in his county for at least six years.
“He can propose this $2,500 increase, but he’s excluding a good segment of the employees of schools,” said Curry, who is the vice president of the Levy County Education Association.
“We have bus drivers, food service people and support people — all these people who have been working really hard to make sure our education is completed and done properly. We’re getting a lot of good services from people and we’re not really paying them for what they’re worth.”
Currently, Florida teachers earn an average salary of $46,000, which is $10,000 below the national average, ranking it 46th in the U.S. Teachers have agreed that the proposal is a step in the right direction, but will hardly fill the 168,000 pocketbooks of state educators.
“If you take the $46,000 of the average teacher’s salary and take out these deductions — which equates to about $2,300 for the average teacher — this $2,500 would only equate to about a $200 raise,” said Dawn Chapman, the president of St. Johns Education Association. But in most cases, for our veteran teachers, who are higher on the salary schedule, they would still be at a loss from this time last year.”
Pfeiffer, who is currently teaching seventh-grade civics at Inverness Middle School, said she has already seen the damage Scott’s previous education policies has caused in her classroom and the education system as a whole.
One of the major problem areas she points to is Senate Bill 736, which was passed by the Florida legislature early in 2011. The bill ties at least 50 percent of a teacher’s salary to student’s performance on standardized tests, for those students assigned to them over a three-year period.
“Senate Bill 736, or the Student Success Act, I believe was fatally flawed when it was proposed,” Pfeiffer said. “And unfortunately, it was passed with political fervor. I think most of the legislators and the governor did not fully understand every complication in the bill.”
The bill, according to Pfeiffer, also affects teachers who, like herself, are evaluated on FCAT scores and not on the core subjects that they teach their students, which leads to a confused curriculum.
Along with a number of unfunded state mandates that place restrictions on what they can teach, Pfeiffer said that many reading and language arts teachers in her county feel so pressured that they are retiring early in the semester — a time when it cannot afford to hire new teachers to fill those positions.
“So all of the other teachers are going to be evaluated again on the FCAT score results of our students, but the teachers who are responsible solely for teaching those content areas aren’t currently in the classrooms,” Pfeiffer said. “And we are having to staff our classes with subs.”
Meanwhile, Chapman said that teachers across the board are cautiously optimistic of the proposal, but with education in Florida being so heavily underfunded, the $2,500 pay raise may not even come to fruition .
“We’re still in the deficit about $3 billion,” Chapman said. “So we just need to find some ways to close tax loopholes and bring additional revenue into the state so we can fund education better.”
Juliana Valenica reported for broadcast.