Duval Teachers Union contract approved with reservations

Florida Times-Union | by Emily Bloch | January 5, 2021

Duval County Public Schools teachers voted to approve a new contract which will include pay raises for thousands of early-career teachers and School Board members but leaves many veteran teachers feeling neglected. 

The votes were counted on Tuesday and passed with an overwhelming 80 percent in favor according to Duval Teachers United President Terrie Brady, who described the new deal as “not equitable, but fair.” 

“We knew it was going to be a financial hardship because, frankly, this is the year that there’s not a lot of money,” Brady told News4Jax.

Now that the contract is approved, it needs to be ratified by the School Board. Brady said the board will take it up at its upcoming general meeting on Monday. 

Union negotiations with the school district focused largely on how the district would allocate nearly $23 million in state funding. In Duval County, 80 percent was designated for teacher salary raises and the other 20 percent for increases for other instructional personnel, including paraprofessionals.

Before holiday break, the School Board voted to approve contract language modifications and salary provisions for office personnel and paraprofessionals that would increase the beginning hourly rate by 50 cents to $10.50 an hour. Similar to the teacher salaries, the contract raises a base salary but doesn’t figure veteran salaries into the plan. 

Across Florida, veteran teachers are voicing the same frustrations. In Hillsborough County, former Duval Chief of Schools Addison Davis is expected to recommend a property tax referendum as a means to boost tenured educators’ pay, the Tampa Bay Times reported

Still, educators recognize that the issue starts from the top. 

Statewide, Gov. Ron DeSantis called 2020 “the year of the teacher,” touting a teacher salary boost. But the Florida Education Association called his pitches Band-Aids, noting that there were thousands of teacher vacancies — which have only increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — and that, again, veteran teachers missed out on the large salary increases new, less experienced teachers would see. 

In response, the education association planned a march in January from Tallahassee’s Civic Center to Florida’s Old Capitol, which ended up being among the largest teacher rallies in Florida. The goal was to ask lawmakers to support better school funding, fair pay for education employees and to address student over-testing.

Brady, the teachers union president, admitted that DeSantis’ proposal left thousands of salaries untouched but still called it a step in the right direction, raising starting salaries across Florida 20 to 32 percent depending on the district. She praised Duval County’s school board for adding an additional $3.2 million in salary and bonus allocations to cushion the gap. Still, veteran teachers say it’s not enough. 

Under the new contract, the new minimum teacher salary would be $45,891, up from the previous starting salary of $39,500, before taxes. A Florida Times-Union/USA TODAY analysis shows that on average, Duval County teachers are paid $41,501 annually before taxes, less than what the district’s new minimum salary would be, with a number of educators working multiple jobs to make ends meet. The highest-paid classroom teacher in the 2018-2019 school year made $74,400 before taxes. 

Data showed that on average, teachers in Jacksonville and other Northeast Florida cities are paying more than 40 percent of their post-tax salaries on housing — experts recommend spending no more than 20-30 percent.

“Veteran teachers really took it on the chin,” longtime teacher and public education advocate Chris Guerrieri said. “School Board members get paid like first-year teachers, though they are stuck there not advancing. Well, first-year teachers are about to get $6,000 raises.” 

If the new contract is ratified, School Board members will also get a raise due to a Florida statute that dictates board members’ pay. The statute provides two options, saying school board members’ salary should either follow a formula for compensation or match the minimum teacher’s salary, whichever is lower. Historically in Duval County, the minimum teacher’s salary has been a lower number than the formula amount.

Under the new contract, that continues to be the case, but also means that School Board members will get an almost $7,000 raise while teachers like Guerrieri — who has been teaching for over 20 years — will see an annual increase of less than $100. 

In private Facebook groups, veteran teachers discussed being in the field for decades, some as many as 30 years, but only making about $1,000 more than new teachers will under the new contract. 

Another controversial item under the new agreement centers around the amount of planning time educators are allotted.

According to the contract, the amount of planning time depends on the grade level taught and type of role — elementary school and resource teachers (electives, academic coaches, specialists, etc.) will get 40 minutes for planning while middle and high school teachers will receive 90 minutes. In some cases where daily planning isn’t possible, the contract notes it will get lumped into larger, less frequent blocks each week. 

“Why isn’t planning equitable across grade levels? Why in some schools do teachers get 90 minutes, others 45, and in more than a few practically none?” Guerrieri said. “That’s not fair and it has to change.” 

The packet, which union members and non-members received last month, included a number of different tentative pay schedules depending on a teacher’s classification. 

On social media, teachers voiced being “torn” between a contract they said had shortfalls but still improved base salaries — something teachers new to the field said they needed to survive — or taking a stand against it altogether. The lack of planning time and potentially looming budget cuts sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic were also recurring concerns. 

Ballots were originally expected to be returned and counted by Dec. 17, but because of delays caused by the holiday season and pandemic overwhelming the United States Post Office, the vote was extended an additional week. 

According to Brady, once the School Board approves the new contract, updated paychecks will start processing with retroactive and prorated adjustments in place. 

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Brady said. “Our governor put our teachers in a bad position. It’s a crying’ shame. The inequalities are great. But it could have been worse.” 

Photo: File photo of an education motorcade outside Duval County Public Schools headquarters on July 14, 2020. Bob Self/Florida Times-Union

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