Deal may come soon on Miami-Dade teacher raises, contract

After months of negotiations, the Miami-Dade school district and its teachers union may be on the verge of a highly anticipated deal to dole out tens of millions of dollars set aside by the state for school employee raises.

And there’s hope that most Miami-Dade’s teachers might reap the entire $2,500 pledged by Gov. Rick Scott — even if the Legislature didn’t fully fund the promise.

Exactly how that would happen hasn’t been laid out yet by district negotiators, who will meet again with union officials Monday. But Superintendent Alberto Carvalho spoke this week about a plan to award teachers the raises as advertised and also revamp a “broken” pay schedule based on years of service.

Carvalho said the district plans to supplement the $53 million provided by the state for raises with federal Race to the Top performance pay bonuses to establish a new salary schedule for the district’s 21,000-plus teachers. The new salary system would give most teachers a $2,500 increase and allow them to earn more through their accomplishments in the classroom, he said.

“It’s a dramatic transformation of how we view compensation, allowing both a recognition of time-earned but also a recognition of performance, and done in a respectful and reasonable way,” he said. “We took advantage of the opportunity to really have a deep conversation about the issues rather than just finding an easy way of distributing the money.”

The latest proposal from the district, presented Wednesday, was worth about $40 million and set aside some money for other employees also eligible for raises. Raises for most teachers ranged between $1,000 and $2,400, comparable to the $1,500 to $2,900 average raises in the 15 districts that have submitted plans to the state.

Talks fizzled in the evening despite buzz on both sides that a tentative agreement was near.

But United Teachers of Dade President Fedrick Ingram said Friday that talk of using Race to the Top funds, which have been treated in the past as separate merit-pay bonuses, shows that the district is looking to find other sources to fulfill an underfunded promise. He said negotiations are “closer.”

“I don’t care where the money comes from. I want it to go into the hands of people who deserve it and do the hard work every day,” said Ingram, who recently warned members that the Legislature didn’t give the district enough money to award each teacher $2,500. “We’re having to move a mountain of expectations and ensure people that at least they’ll get what the expectation was, even though the money wasn’t attached to it.”

While much of the focus of district and union negotiations around Florida has been on how districts will use their millions from the state for pay increases, there are broader underlying contract issues.

The two sides are trying to come to terms on health benefits. And looming changes under the Student Success Act, which set up Florida’s merit pay and teacher evaluation systems, have also warranted a deeper look at teachers’ contract and pay scale.

The law requires that districts have two pay systems, one for existing teachers and another for new hires and teachers who opt to be paid through a performance-based system. The largest raises offered in the “grandfathered” system dictate what the highest-ranked teachers in the performance pay system receive.

Also, the current salary schedule in Miami-Dade has been often criticized because it affords only modest raises for teachers until after a dozen years of experience, at which point raises jump into the thousands. In December, the last time the district bumped teachers up a level in the salary schedule, the move was met with protests from teachers like Tanya Cummins, a 12-year Miami-Dade educator who got only $300.

Cummins, who teaches Pre-K at Leisure City K-8 Center, said after a dozen years of teaching in the county she barely makes more than a rookie educator.

“The situation is dire for us teachers,” she said.

Carvalho said the new pay system he’s envisioned has been in the works for four years, starting with a mock-up on the back of a napkin. He said the deal is one “for the long haul.”

“We felt we needed to put everything on the table and talk about the big picture,” he said. “With the investment from Tallahassee, along with the performance pay element from Race to the Top, we’re talking about a significant investment.”

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