Teachers Union 'Crying Wolf' Over 'Layoffs' as Districts Eye New Salaries
Around the State
The state teachers' union was "crying wolf" when it claimed that "thousands" of school workers would be laid off this year, says the head of the Florida School Boards Association.
"The Florida Education Association was incorrect about layoffs. They're crying wolf," said FSBA president Wayne Blanton. "Very few districts have laid anyone off."
Blanton's comments confirm an earlier Sunshine State News survey that found few districts following through on threatened terminations.
The FEA did not respond to Sunshine State News' request for comment.
Despite widespread complaints about budget shortfalls, the vast majority of the state's 67 districts have found ways to keep their teaching and supports staffs intact.
For example, Broward County School District mailed nonrenewal letters to 1,447 teachers last May.
By the end of the school year, the district reported just "117 teachers placed on layoff due to lack of full-time vacancies in their subject areas."
Displaced instructors have since been absorbed and the district says it currently has "over 150 vacancies in mathematics, science and special education."
Dozens of smaller districts, such as St. Lucie County, report no staff reductions in either their teaching or nonteaching ranks.
In fact, St. Lucie has even approved across-the-board 3 percent pay increases for all its workers to offset the new state requirement for employee retirement contributions.
Though suffering from one of the worst real-estate collapses in the country -- and commensurately lower property tax revenues -- the St. Lucie district was also able to reduce its tax rate.
Collier County also has increased teacher compensation, and Pasco County is considering a hike.
Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, said, "We believe the district can do something to help employees and still have cash reserves."
In Polk County, two charter school systems -- McKeel and Lake Wales -- approved offsetting raises.
Most districts, however, are still negotiating contracts, which have been complicated by the inauguration of merit-pay programs this year.
Max Schmidt, executive director of the Florida School Labor Relations Service, said it's "too soon in the process" to say how many districts will adjust salaries.
"They still don't know what they're doing as far as the bottom line is concerned," Schmidt said from a meeting of education leaders in Tampa on Thursday.
Turning the FEA's layoff claims on their head, at least one local union official is blaming "excessive hiring" for a paucity of teacher pay raises.
"Pinellas County's teachers are suffering in part because school district leaders have failed to adequately address nine years of declining enrollment," the head of the teachers' union was quoted as saying in the St. Petersburg Times.
Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said the district for too many years has allowed schools to hire at a rate that outpaces student need.
"If you can't even afford the people you already have, why are you hiring more?" Black asked.
Statewide K-12 enrollment is projected to increase by a bare 0.47 percent to 2,654,454 students this year, according to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.