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Pay Raises For Teacher and State Employees On The Way But Not Everyone Is Pleased

State of Florida employees and public school teachers are slated for pay raises. But the amount of money they’ll get depends on their current salaries, and in the case of teachers, their annual performance evaluations.

State employee and teacher raises were two of Governor Rick Scott’s top priorities, and they’re both included in the budget finalized by legislative leaders today. For state workers the news is being met with accolades. Most Florida workers haven’t seen a raise in about six years. As positions were reduced, workers took on more job duties. Two years ago they were required to contribute three-percent of their pay to their retirement fund. Doug Martin, spokesman for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees or AFSCME, says the money is much appreciated:

“We’re thankful to the leadership for recognizing the difficult economic times that employees at the lower end of the pay level so that it benefitted those at the bottom the most.”

Under the deal, state employees making less than $40,000 a year will get a $1,400 salary boost. Those making more than $40,000 will get a thousand dollar raise. That’s a seven-percent increase for employees making $20,000 a year, and 3.5 percent for an employee making $40,000. There’s also money for additional merit-based bonuses.

“Even though employees have seen their earning power decline by 15-percent... this is significant pay increase and it will begin rebuilding the damage state employees suffered during the economic downturn," said Martin.

He says the state workers union is mostly satisfied with the outcome of the deal. But teachers, who are also slated for salary increases, are giving Florida lawmakers an “F” grade. They say unlike state employees and others, who are guaranteed a minimum amount of money no matter what, they’re status isn’t guaranteed:

 “The money is being offered up seems to be 100 percent attached to performance, nothing guaranteed. Police, 100 percent guaranteed and zero-percent on performance. So I feel teachers are being targeted. For what reason, I don’t know," said David Worrell, an art teacher at Ghazvini Learning Center and President of the Leon County Classroom Teachers Association.

Florida lawmakers have agreed to spend Governor Rick Scott’s $480 million on teacher pay raises. Scott wanted $2,500 across-the-board raises for all public school teachers. What he’s getting is a system that rewards teachers, and other school personnel based on their performance evaluations. The salary bumps could be as high as $3,500. Worrell says he doesn’t know how Florida school districts are supposed to make that money go around when there are more people eligible for the raises.

“I’m thinking they’re either going to have to establish an artificial cut, or say that districts will have to find a way to divide the money so that there is some differential. ” 

Legislative leaders however, say there is enough money in the budget for the additional personnel.

“We have a lot of smart people who have run numbers and we’ve made sure there will be plenty of money," said Republican Representative Seth McKeel, the House's lead budget negotiator.

Working out the math is one thing, but another issue that has educators up in arms is the delay between when the pay raises go into effect. Teachers won’t get the money until June of 2014--the start of a new budget year.  

“I think it’s still a win. The fact you’re spending a billion dollars in our education system. And there’s a lot of funds that aren’t dictated and completely flexible by the school district. So I think it’s a huge win," said House Speaker Will Weatherford.  

Legislative leaders like Weatherford are praising the addition of a billion-more dollars into the education budget, but almost half of that is the $480 million teachers won’t see until the start of the fiscal year that begins after the proposed budget making its way through now, is expired.

Update: At the end of the 2013 legislative session Florida lawmakers revised the rules around teacher pay raises so that they now go into effect in the upcoming fiscal year.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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