Palm Beach Teachers Demanding Pay Raises to be ‘Made Whole’

The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers’ Association has made its negotiating position clear. Not only is it seeking to have its members once again be made eligible for raises after five years of frozen salaries, but the union wants the school districts to make the teachers “whole” by raising their salaries to where they would have been had the district not imposed the freeze in the first place. The cost of acceding to union demands would run the district in the neighborhood of $84 million.

The salaries of Palm Beach Country teachers fall between $37,322 for those just starting to $66,700 for those with 26 years of experience or more. Teachers also used to be bumped up one salary “step” for every year of experience in district schools, but for the past five years these step bumps have been frozen due to the district’s budget difficulties.

The union is proposing that the district move all teachers up one salary step this August before the 2012-13 school year commences this fall. In addition, the district should continue bumping teachers every few months, all through next May, until all teachers have caught up with the salary levels they missed. Therefore, those who missed out on two step levels while the salaries were frozen would be caught up by the end of March, and those who missed three would be whole by June 1st, and so on until the 6th and final pay raise goes to the teachers who missed all five years of raises.

In explaining the union’s position, Jupiter High School media specialist Les Kozlow said that the teachers weren’t asking for salary raises, but where merely asking to be paid what was promised to them by the salary scale set out by the district itself.

The union’s Phillips did not provide a total cost estimate for the raises. But district Chief Operating Officer Mike Burke has previously estimated that each step raise would cost the district about $14 million, meaning six step raises could cost as much as $84 million. Phillips said the proposal would probably cost less because not all teachers would get all the back steps, and the phased in raises would not be retroactive.

The district’s chief negotiator, Van Ludy, said that the union’s demands were unrealistic. Considering the district’s still-precarious financial situation, the district can’t afford to spend even half of what the estimated pay raises would cost.

“Even if it was $50 million, or $30 million that money is not there,” Ludy said.

Phillips disagreed, saying that the money is there. He handed out an analysis of the district’s general fund expenditures on instruction, including teacher salaries for the 2010-2011 school year that shows the district spent about $98 million less than originally budgeted. Phillips said the district has been budgeting too high on instruction for years. He said the difference between what’s budgeted and actually spent could fund the proposed raises.