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Seminole teachers to vote on 3% raises, salary negotiations continue in Orange, Lake

Seminole teachers to vote on 3% raises, salary negotiations continue in Orange, Lake
OS CT-school-books-484427163.jpg_OS44Broadsheet_08-11-2014_FLA_ User Upload Caption: Seminole union, district agree on 3 percent raise for teachers (VlaMil / Orlando Sentinel)

Seminole County’s public school teachers will get pay hikes of 3 percent in the coming year and at least another 1.25 percent in the following year, under an agreement reached by their union and the school district.

The 3 percent raise -- also offered to other workers, from bus drivers to school principals -- will be the highest for Seminole teachers in six years, if they approve the agreement in an upcoming vote, said Chardo Richardson, chief negotiator for the Seminole Education Association and the unions that represent many other school workers.

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In Orange County, union leaders and district administrators continue to negotiate, with the union arguing the district’s proposed health insurance hikes mean its proposed raises -- slightly higher than 3 percent for most teachers -- don’t amount to much.

In Lake County, the teachers union and the district also continue to bargain salaries and benefits for the coming year.

In Seminole, teachers are pleased with their deal, though they still wish salaries were more in line with the national average, Richardson said.

The average salary for a Seminole teacher this past school year was $48,235 compared with more than $60,400 nationally.

Many educators view Florida leaders as hostile to public education, passing laws and budgets in the last decade that made their work and their take-home pay less desirable.

“It’s a tough spot to be in for public employees and public schools,” Richardson said.

The state budget passed this year by the Florida Legislature provided more money for public schools than last year’s and enabled the district to offer its best raise since 2013-14, he said. The hope is that next year there will be enough to provide more than the 1.25 percent increase, he added.

Seminole teachers are to vote on the salary deal when they return to their schools in August. Other employee groups represented by unions, including bus drivers, cafeteria aides and school clerks, will vote on their proposed salary hikes sooner, Richardson said, though no dates have been set yet.

Seminole school administrators will get the same salary hikes as other employees, said Michael Lawrence, a district spokesman.

In Orange, teachers are worried about rising health insurance costs that could mean less take-home pay next year, said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association.

The district has proposed a $500 pay hike for all teachers and then an additional $1,125 for teachers evaluated as “effective” and an extra $1,525 for those deemed “highly effective.” In recent years, almost all Orange teachers were either “effective” or “highly effective,” with a majority getting the top rating.

But the proposed raises are smaller than what was provided last year, Doromal said, as is the district’s proposed teacher bonus, which was $750 and would be $500 for the coming year.

That’s not right given a boost in state funding, she said, and given Orange’s average salary, which at $48,146 was lower this past year than the state average and lower than that paid in Florida’s other large school districts.

The district, in a newsletter to employees, noted some of the new state money was earmarked for specific programs and not available for employee salaries. It said it was offering a 4 percent increase to the district’s payroll and covering a more than $800 increase in employee insurance premiums.

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The cost for employees to insure their families could go up by at least $120 a year and possibly by as much as about $400, depending on the plan selected, the union said.

“Please don’t agree with the insurance increases,” read one message posted on the union’s Facebook page.

“Thank you for fighting for us!” read another.

Orange’s union and school district negotiator are scheduled to bargain again on Thursday.

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