Divided School Board delays $100,000 teacher proposal in Broward

South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | July 26, 2023

Broward Schools won’t be known as the home of the $100,000 teacher just yet.

The School Board voted down 4-5 a proposal from board member Allen Zeman to make changes to the district’s budget that would allow the average teacher to receive a salary of $80,000, or a salary and benefits package of about $100,000, by 2025.

But the board later agreed at the end of an 11½-hour meeting Tuesday to ask Superintendent Peter Licata to bring back a similar proposal by January.

And teachers should still be getting larger pay increases than in recent years, officials said, due to an increase in state funding, increased property values and a tax increase approved by voters last year. A district analysis now says the average teacher salary is about $66,259 before benefits, or $83,452 including benefits.

While School Board members liked in the abstract Zeman’s $100,000 proposal, and Licata said it could be a great marketing tool, several board members said they couldn’t stomach a list of cuts Zeman proposed to help pay for the idea.

Zeman’s proposal would have largely been paid for with increased revenues, but it would include an end to no-premium health care for employees, saving about $9.3 million, a 15% to 20% reduction in technology contracts ($9 million cut), a reduction of clerical and custodial staff ($8.4 million); a 15% reduction in other contracted services ($4 million) and a 30% cut in conferences and professional development ($300,000).

“I don’t really agree with any of them because it’s just this big picture. You’re cutting (information technology) contracts. Well, what does that mean? We’ve got to break that down by the details to know exactly what you’re cutting,” Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff said. “This is too aggressive, too fast, too broad, and so I will not be supporting this.”

Joining her in opposition were Torey Alston, Brenda Fam, Sarah Leonardi and Nora Rupert. Joining Zeman in support of the proposal were Daniel Foganholi, Jeff Holness and Debra Hixon.

But the idea is more delayed than dead. Most of those opposed were open to the idea if they could get more details on how to pay for it.

Licata said he’s scouring the budget and believes he can find savings to reach the goal but he said he needs a few months.

“I’m not sure if we’re looking in all the right places, but our intent and the fact that we’re talking about this is the right conversation,” Licata said. “I’m confident we can get here.”

Although Hixon supported the proposal, she still worried about overpromising, especially since a tax increase approved through a 2022 voter referendum expires in four years unless voters agree to renew it in 2026.

Voters have generally been supportive of referendums to increase teacher pay in the past five years with the referendums passing twice in the past three years in all three South Florida counties. In 2022, Broward voters approved $100 per $100,000 of assessed property, twice what had been approved in 2018.

Hixon said there’s also uncertainty about how a universal voucher bill approved this year by the Legislature could affect enrollment and state funding.

Zeman argued the district got a 9% increase from the state and is fully funding vouchers. He also said property values have increased 12.5%.

“There is no projection for decreased property value in Broward County. I guarantee it. I get 15 phone calls a week to buy my house,” he said.

He argued the risks are minimal.

“The referendum is not going away. Vouchers are going to be paid for, the economy continues to grow and yet we sit here wringing our hands about something that we know is possible,” Zeman said. “This isn’t bold. This is normal business practice. You take little tiny risks along the way to do something really, really important.”

Several teachers provided written and in-person comments urging the board to boost teacher pay.

Renee Okenka, who is 27 and a language arts teacher at Western High in Davie, told the School Board she can’t afford to live in South Florida on her teacher’s salary, which is about $50,000.

She said she lives with a roommate in Coconut Creek, about 20 miles from work, because she couldn’t find anything affordable close by. She coaches several sports, sponsors student government and teaches an extra period at school to pick up extra money.

“Even with all these extra paid supplements, I was living paycheck to paycheck and was forced to pick up an extra job waiting tables in order to make ends meet,” she said. “Teachers should not have to rely on picking up extra work outside of their base salary in order to afford to live,” she said. “I implore you to consider [Zeman’s] proposal today.”

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