Miami-Dade faces tough decisions on ‘teacher’ raises

For months, Florida’s teachers having been hearing they would receive $2,500 raises this coming school year. Gov. Rick Scott made it a top priority.

But now that the state Legislature has divvied up close to a half-billion dollars across 67 school districts, the reality of how that money may be spent could be very different than expected. And hashing out the details of who gets how much may put school districts and teachers unions in a difficult spot.

That’s becoming clear in Miami-Dade as the School Board prepares to give preliminary approval to its $4.3 billion 2013-14 budget Thursday, and administrators begin negotiations with the United Teachers of Dade.

Because despite Scott’s pledge to give raises for every teacher, and the Legislature’s allocation of up to $3,500 for deserving educators, the fine print makes clear that those mandates were really just suggestions.

Districts can give any amount to any employee they wish, as long as the outcome is collectively bargained. Broward hasn’t tackled the issue of teacher raises yet.

In Miami-Dade, the recipient of $63 million for categorical raises — about $10 million of which must go to charter schools — that could mean tough decisions. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has said that the district’s roughly 23,000 teachers will be the first priority, but UTD President Fedrick Ingram doubts the money from the state will fund teachers’ expectations. His union also represents security monitors, paraprofessionals and clerical staff, all of whom are eligible for a cut of money but weren’t mentioned by Scott or the Legislature.

Meanwhile, school administrators expect to be compensated under the state’s budget, which mentions guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, librarians, principals, and assistant principals as being eligible for the money. And the district’s police union wants about $3 million for raises, knowing that every school employee can potentially be compensated.

“We were completely disrespected in the governor’s budget,” said Ingram, who vowed to negotiate for everyone in his union. “He sends a pot of dollars and at the very last minute they say now this money is for everybody? It’s a false promise to the instructional personnel, because you told them on a wide basis they’d receive $2,500. He’s trying to divide the people who work in schools.”

Ingram says School Board members should consider adding money to the dollars from the state, as the much smaller Pasco County school district expects to do in order to offer its teachers roughly $2,000 along with raises for its other employees. He pointed out that the state substantially increased per-student funding this year.

Carvalho, however, has urged the board to hold the line at $63 million, which he said is more money that the district previously spent on raises for all its employees. His budget office has also said that, despite the state’s boost in funding, the district still had to cover a $28 million shortfall due to increased expenses.

Carvalho said he intends to honor the Legislature’s purpose for the money.

“Notwithstanding the last-minute changes to the appropriations language, I personally give exceptional weight to the legislative intent and original promise as proffered. With that said, I look forward to the discussion at the bargaining table to live up to the promise and the expectation and ultimately dignify the work of those who do the most for students,” he said. “I think the entire state of Florida is navigating through this.”

Enid Weisman, the district’s chief human capital officer, acknowledged during an early round of collective bargaining on Friday that Scott’s publicizing of $2,500 teacher raises during the legislative session makes hashing out an agreement difficult, due to expectations.

“I’m living with those comments, and you’re living with those comments because he has no authority to supersede collective bargaining. He’s thrown us into this. I feel like the hamster on the treadmill,” she said to Ingram.

Districts have been able to submit to the state their plans for distributing the money since last month, though no district has done so yet. Weisman told Ingram and his bargaining team not to expect a proposal until after Thursday’s hearing and a subsequent executive session with the School Board, when members can direct staff behind closed doors how to proceed with negotiations.

In the meantime, Scott and legislators will in spirit be looking over their shoulders, even if they don’t officially have a seat at the bargaining table.

House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said the Legislature left flexibility for districts, knowing they can do whatever they wish with the money. But he said it was Tallahassee’s expectation that the raises would be merit-based and reserved for classroom personnel.

“Once you’re flexible, you’re flexible, and it can trickle down as far down as the cafeteria worker,” he said. “But I would hope that leaders at the local level would not take it to that level and would truly use these dollars on the in-class instructional workers doing the hard work every day.”

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor was explicit in proposing that half a billion-dollar boost to education spending be reserved for educators. “We’ve made it clear,” she said. “The fact is the governor allocated $480 million specifically for much-deserved teacher pay raises.”