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Miami-Dade teachers to vote on new contract

Miami-Dade teachers are set to vote on a three-year contract Monday that offers them about $30 million in raises in the first year.

Three-fourths of the money will go to the 8,500 most experienced, highest-paid teachers, who will see raises between $1,250 and nearly $11,000.

About 16 percent would go to the nearly 3,800 lowest-paid, newer teachers and lift their salaries to $40,000.

Leftover for some 8,000 teachers in the middle: about $300 a year.

“I still love my job but have come to the harsh realization that I cannot financially afford to do it forever,” Diana Pluto wrote to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho after the tentative deal was announced. Pluto called the contract offer “demoralizing” and said her calling as a teacher is “becoming a luxury I cannot afford.”

In recent austere years, the Miami-Dade school district — the county’s largest employer — has not laid off teachers for economic reasons. But teachers have weathered the recession with frozen salaries and rising health-care contributions.

On average, the tentative salary raises are a 2.7 percent increase, but the amounts vary widely. Non-instructional employees would see a 2.25 percent raise.

Pluto, who teaches math at South Dade Middle and has received accolades for her work, said the raises do not cover the rising health-care costs and with most of them back-loaded, the salary structure gives teachers a “test of endurance.”

Under the tentative deal, which must also be approved by the Miami-Dade School Board, her annual salary will increase by less than 1 percent: $307 to $41,214. She has calculated that her out-of-pocket health insurance contribution is going up by about 3 percent, or $200 a year. The raise barely covers that and doesn’t make up for previous health care increases.

Pluto, who has taught for 12 years, last received a raise in 2010. But that bump — $80 a paycheck — didn’t cover the insurance increase then, about $105 a paycheck.

“Year after year, we are paying significantly more for our insurance and receiving significantly less. Bottom line: I have seen a pay cut for three years in a row,” Pluto said.

On social media, several teachers wrote they planned to vote against the contract proposal because they didn’t see benefits in it.

Officers with the United Teachers of Dade, who negotiated the deal with the district, did not respond to requests for comment.Union President Karen Aronowitz previously called the 1 percent pay raise offered by the district unacceptable. Yet many teachers, like Pluto, will see less than that under the proposal.

In a video to 21,000 teachers and 11,000 non-instructional employees, Aronowitz urged them to vote “yes.” She said it preserves an option for employer-paid health care for employees. “Everyone moves forward, money in the pocket,” she said. With a “no” vote, she said, “An entire year can go without anybody receiving anything in their pockets.”

After payroll, health insurance costs are the second-biggest expense for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. And like the rest of South Florida, it grapples with some of the most expensive health care costs in the nation. This year, those health care costs for the whole district are slated to total $386 million; the district will pay about $321 million of that, said John Schuster, spokesman for the district.

In an email Friday, the district’s chief of staff, Daniel Tosado, told teachers they wouldn’t move to a higher bracket for health care contributions based on any salary increase in the tentative contract. That was a concern for many teachers, who could have potentially paid hundreds more for their family’s health insurance due to a $300 raise.

“Please know that your work is truly valued and that we have the deepest respect for what you do in the classrooms of our schools every day. There is no price that could reflect the true worth of your work and service,” Tosado wrote.

Even if approved, the new contract would come as the state dramatically changes how teachers are evaluated, paid and retained. Student scores now drive part of teacher evaluations and will be increasingly tied to pay and tenure. Statewide, teachers unions are challenging the new law. Miami-Dade has started to dole out merit pay bonuses: $14 million last year and another $14 million this year in federal money.