Santa Rosa County School District employees are slated to receive a raise this year, once two parties reach an agreement on how state funds should be funneled through the county. Reaching an agreement has been proven to be difficult so far.
Governor Rick Scott has allocated $480 million in funds this year to provide educators with a salary raise across all of the 67 districts in the state, according to the governor's office.
The Santa Rosa County School District has received $9.436 million in new funding, according to Santa Rosa Professional Educator (SRPE) president and chief negotiator Rhonda Chavers. Of that amount, $4.23 million has been allocated for teacher's salaries by the governor.
"The economy has been bad," Chavers said. "It's been a long time coming."
The funds are available for distribution, but they have to be channeled through the school district's teacher's union. The SRPE, Santa Rosa's teacher's union, has met with the district a handful of times, but has yet to reach an agreement on how the funds should be spent.
"Basically, the district got $9.5 million," Chavers said. "We asked for $5.2 million of it."
Chavers said they asked that the entirety of the $4.23 million be distributed to teachers, as it is allocated. After payments to FICA and FRS, Chavers said the educators are looking at an $1,800 raise, instead of the $2,500 per teacher raise originally announced by the governor. To compensate educational-support staff, the SRPE asked the school board to kick-in roughly $1 million of the remaining $5.2 million in new funding from the state to cover raises for maintenance staff.
"I think our offer is very reasonable," Chavers said. "When you start telling teachers that they're going to get $2,500 and it works out to be $1,800 after FRS, of course you're going to have some people upset."
Educational support staff are supported by another union, the Carpenter's Industrial Council, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America---often referred to as the Blue Collar Union. This union represents all of the district's maintenance workers as well as a small number of bus drivers and custodians still employed by the district, who chose not to become privatized nearly 15 years ago.
The Blue Collar Union has reached an agreement with the district, anticipating a $1,400 raise, contingent on the SRPE settlement, according to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Bill Emerson.
The school district received a level increase last year, according to Emerson. The increase bumped salaries when employees moved from one level to the next level, but a cost of living adjustment was not awarded to those not moving to other levels. He mentioned a couple of years ago, the state required to pay three percent more into their retirement, essentially becoming a three percent pay cut. Then the district gave everyone a three percent raise to make up for that loss.
"It's been really strange the last few years," Emerson said. "It's been real patchy for the past four or five years."
Emerson said typically, the teachers will ask for as much as they can. The district, in turn, will try to be as fiscally prudent as possible.
"Our teachers deserve more than they get," Emerson said. "There's nobody in our organization that doesn't agree that our teachers are some of the greatest in the state."
The SRPE and the school board will meet at the collective bargaining table again Sept. 11, 4 p.m. at the school board building on Canal Street. The SRPE is prepared with their counter-offer. Chavers said they are prepared to do what they can to settle the contract.