Teacher pay raises placed on fast track

Florida teachers won’t have to wait until June 2014 to get their pay raises, lawmakers said Wednesday.

The announcement came after educators statewide — with the backing of union leaders, school superintendents and Gov. Rick Scott — complained that the salary increases being proposed for teachers wouldn’t kick in for another 14 months.

House and Senate leaders tweaked the language Wednesday. Now, the payout could happen as early as September, according to teachers’ union leaders.

The revised language also gives school boards the flexibility to develop their own merit-based systems for awarding salary increases, rather than following a plan developed by the Legislature.

“We all knew that the original language wouldn’t work,” said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association, the state teachers’ union. “It took teachers, superintendents and the governor weighing in for us to make that point.”

Lawmakers released their initial plan late Sunday. The proposal tied the raises to teachers’ 2013-14 performance evaluations, meaning the money wouldn’t be available until June 2014 at the earliest, and added principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors and media specialists to the list of employees eligible to receive a salary boost.

The teachers’ union was quick to criticize the plan, in part because no other state employees would have to wait that long for raises.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie turned up the pressure Tuesday by holding a joint press conference to express their concerns.

“What was unacceptable to me was that something was promised, but folks would have to wait 14 months to get it,” Carvalho said.

Scott got involved in the effort, too, urging legislators to get the money out as soon as possible.

“The governor was advocating for what he originally proposed, which was an immediate pay raise,” spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said.

By Wednesday morning, lawmakers had hashed out a solution that won the support of the unions. The new language lets school systems come up with their own performance-pay plans that could be tied to 2012-13 student achievement data.

Carvalho called the new language “a dramatic step forward.”

“This empowers local school boards with the ability to negotiate an evaluation system and payout well before June 2014,” he said.

Said Runcie: “We’re good with the new language. It gives us the flexibility to do what we need to do.”

Senate President Don Gaetz, a former superintendent, said lawmakers hadn’t intended to make teachers wait.

“As soon as a school district comes up with a plan, collectively bargains the plan, and submits it to the commissioner of education, my hope is that we [can] go forward and give Florida teachers the pay increase they deserve,” he said.

Herald/Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.