Lack of salary increase met with counter offer by teachers union

The St. Johns County School District is proposing no raise for teachers in a compensation offer submitted to the St. Johns Education Association on Wednesday. The teachers union has countered with a salary increase that would have the district kick in an additional $1.7 million to settle the 2017-18 annual contract.


Both sides go back to the bargaining table Wednesday.

Cathy Weber, the district’s director for salaries and benefits and its chief negotiator, prefaced discussions at Wednesday’s meeting by saying the 1.4 percent increase the district received in state funding over last year was “not enough for us to do what our board would like to do for our staff.”

In its current bid, the school board would award classroom teachers rated “highly effective” a bonus of $1,200 and teachers rated “effective” $800 in state-allotted funds under the “Best and Brightest” program.

The board is also offering to extend the same package to non-instructional teachers (such as guidance counselors and media specialists) for a total of $266,000 drawn from the district’s general fund.

But it is also asking union members to pay 0.75 percent more in insurance premiums, with the burden split by employees and the district.

According to Weber, that would be about $45 more a year for an employee with the basic family “buy-up” health plan.

Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association, said in an email to The Record Thursday, “While I am disappointed in the initial proposal from the district, I am hopeful they will return to the negotiating table with a true salary increase, not just a bonus from the Florida Legislature. Bonuses do not increase our base salary, do not count toward retirement and are taxed at a higher rate.”

The SJEA has proposed the district go beyond the state-distributed scholarship and reward instructional teachers with a base pay increase of $715 per teacher hired before 2011 and grandfathered in before the state’s “pay-for-performance” provision went into effect. More than 1,000 St. Johns County teachers fall into this category.

The union is seeking an increase of $965 for all other teachers rated “highly effective,” which is 741 across the district, as well as $716 for the 635 teachers rated “effective.” The additional outlay for the district would be $1.7 million and raises would be retroactive to June 30, 2017.

As part of its counter offer, the SJEA is also looking to negate the health insurance hike.

Weber said Wednesday the state Legislature had handcuffed local school districts with the passage of House Bill 7069, which diverts $96 million in taxpayer funding from public schools to go to private charter schools. A number of school districts across the state have filed a lawsuit challenging the education bill, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in June.

Sally Cunningham, chief negotiator for the SJEA, said in an email to The Record Thursday that annual contract negotiations had begun in February and “so far, under the leadership of our new superintendent, Tim Forson, things have been going smoothly. We have just started to negotiate compensation and are hopeful that the district will agree to a fair increase for its hardworking, high-quality teachers.”

The school district and the SJEA negotiate compensation packages annually. In addition, the parties’ full three-year contract agreement expired June 30 . Last year was the first time negotiations came to an impasse, requiring the intervention of an appointed magistrate.