The Gulf County School District has reached an agreement for the coming year with the union representing teachers and non-instructional personnel, but it is the years beyond that have both sides concerned.
The agreement for the current year, ratified by the Gulf Education Association in September, calls for no salary increases or changes in contract language.
The contract language will remain intact through 2016.
But looming on the horizon is a legislative bill passed in the spring that mandates that all public school districts have an “instructional performance salary schedule” no later than the 2014-15 school year.
The GCEA and Gulf District Schools agreed to begin negotiating that performance salary schedule – which will apply only to teachers hired after July 1, 2011, unless a teacher currently under a professional services contract can opt into that salary schedule – beginning in January.
The problem for the district, and Gulf County is not alone, is the wording of the law passed by the Florida Legislature in the spring.
That law, Sara Joe Wooten, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, says that a teacher receiving “high-performing” pay in a given year will have that pay applied permanently to their salary.
Should the teacher be deemed high performing the following year, that teacher would again be eligible for a bonus that would be a permanent salary addition.
In theory, that would mean a teacher could be making $100,000 or more as a high-performing teacher.
“Don’t get me wrong, teachers deserve more than they are paid, but that would just break us,” Wooten said. “Given some time, the district could go bankrupt. I think the union also recognized it.”
The state teacher’s union has filed a lawsuit asking a court to look at the provisions of the law to ensure they are constitutional.
“When they start chawing at the bigger districts, the Legislature will hear about it,” Wooten said. “We little districts, we are sitting tight and taking it one year at a time.”
Further frustrating districts who will begin the process of negotiating a salary schedule that will be based on learning gains made by students in the classroom is that the Florida Department of Education or the Florida Legislature could override any agreement at the bargaining table.
A baseline for the bonus a high-performing teacher would receive has not been established by the state and the law does not provide one.
Therefore, Wooten said, school districts are largely operating blind until the FDOE or Florida Legislature provide clarification, which Wooten hoped would be coming with the upcoming 2013 legislative session.
Veterans Day program
Due to ongoing construction at Port St. Joe Elementary School, the two Port St. Joe schools will host the annual Salute to Veterans at 9 a.m. on Friday at the Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School gym.
All veterans are encouraged to attend and the event is open to the public.