Broward Teachers Union members rallied Wednesday evening, protesting the district’s proposed 1.7% pay raise, which would be funded exclusively by state funds, rather than the district’s budget.
Gathered inside the Broward School Board building, teachers in blue and red BTU tee-shirts also were outraged that they may be asked to contribute to their health insurance for the first time, effectively exceeding the raise being offered, according to a union statement.
If the union and the district are able to come to an agreement, the raise would be effective immediately and teachers would receive retroactive pay from July.
The union has demanded a 9% pay increase, which they say is comparable to neighboring districts. Teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the largest in Florida and the third largest in the nation, received a pay bump between 7% and 10% this year. In October, the Palm Beach County School District reached an agreement with its teachers union that would give an average 7% pay increase and one-time 3% bonus.
Earlier this year, the union and the district agreed to teacher raises of 3.75% to 5% for the previous school year.
Every 1% increase in pay costs the district approximately $15 million, according to Debra Hixon, School Board vice chair and former district teacher. Hixon noted that it is unclear if the raises in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade include changes in healthcare benefit costs and additional referendum funds. The 1.7% proposal from Broward’s district does not include these costs, making a comparison among the three districts potentially inaccurate.
“We don’t ever look at things apples to apples,” she said.
Veteran Broward County teacher Jorg Pophal said that 31 years into his career, his base salary is still $61,000. He earns additional money because of his advanced degree and extra training he’s done but ultimately does not make enough to cover basic living expenses.
“I have had to pick up a part-time job just to make ends meet,” he said. “I can no longer afford to pay for my own children’s health insurance.”
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Melissa Falkowski said she attended the rally because she felt it was her “responsibility to come down here and say that this is completely unacceptable.”
“My husband’s a teacher,” she said. “We have two kids. It’s hard to survive and live.”
She has taken on at least one extra teaching period, multiple supplemental extracurricular classes, and private tutoring outside of school. And still, she worries about how she’ll pay for her kids’ braces, put them through college, and someday retire.
Teachers doing all of this extra work ultimately harms their students, she said.
“You’re so exhausted,’’ Falkowski said. “How much effort and energy do you think you’re able to put into teaching your class or planning a dynamic lesson or grading papers when you’re so frickin’ tired? Because you’re constantly overextended — because you have to do more and more and more.”
‘Please show us that we matter’
From two overflow rooms just outside the School Board meeting, BTU members cheered at a television screen as their peers testified.
“Please show us that we matter, and we’re worth more than zero,” pleaded one teacher.
The board’s proposed offer is effectively zero, said Broward Teachers Union president Anna Fusco.
“Teachers want to be paid a living wage that reflects their value to the school system and its students and keeps up with inflation and the cost of living in South Florida,” according to a statement released by the Broward Teachers Union. (The Cost of Living Adjustment for 2024 is 3.2%.)
Fusco said School Board members “promise big” but don’t deliver. “They all say it when they’re trying to look good to the public, but they never come in with it.”
“They didn’t approve the budget until September,” she said. “They had plenty of opportunity to move line items to make sure that their employees were valued, and they chose not to.“
Fusco estimated that in total around 300 educators attended the rally. About 14,400 instructional staff are employed by the district.
Board members did not attend the rally, but some supported the teachers in interviews with the Herald.
“It is important to me that our teachers and staff know they are valued and I will continue to support higher salaries,” Hixon said in a written statement. “I thank them for speaking out and sharing their stories to emphasize why they must get an increase in pay.”
“We live in a state that really does not value public education,” she said in an interview with the Herald. “So it’s an uphill battle.”
Board Member Sarah Leonardi echoed this point. “I support what they’re asking for and I understand their frustrations around pay, and I think they absolutely should be asking us for something better than what we’re offering.”
“1.7% is not an acceptable pay raise for our teachers,” she added.
Board Member Allan Zeman said that while teachers deserve a larger raise, he noted that in addition to the 1.7% increase being provided by the state, the district will pick up the increased cost of healthcare, which was about 1.2% higher this year. Teachers will also receive a bump from a $227 million referendum that voters passed in August 2022, which called for increasing property taxes over the next four years to pay for teacher raises and other school-related costs. In all, he said, this amounts to about a 9% increase.
Teachers pushed back on this notion, noting referendum pay is not a salary increase because it is a temporary and based on voters. And, they added, the board has proposed shifts in healthcare coverage that would demand teachers pay at least part of their own premiums moving forward. Currently, the district covers the entirety of healthcare premiums for individual plans. Teachers are responsible for a portion of family-plan costs.
Broward teachers make an average base salary of about $66,000 and an average total compensation of about $83,000, according to a board discussion in July. The average public school teacher in the U.S. earns a salary of $66,745, according to 2022-23 data from the National Education Association.
The average Florida teacher salary is just over $51,000, the third lowest in the country, according to the National Education Association. The average teacher starting salary in the state is just over $45,000; in Broward, starting teachers are paid $48,925, according to the district.
In February, the Broward County School Board unanimously approved a contract that gave instructional staff a one-time $1,000 bonus and a raise of up to 5% depending on experience and performance.
Then- Superintendent Vicky Cartwright called the raise the “largest salary increases our teachers have received in a decade.”
In July, the School Board rejected a proposal that would have given teachers a nearly $20,000 pay raise in total compensation. Critics of the proposal noted that it was misleading and lacked transparency.
After watching their peers speak at the School Board meeting, over 100 teachers filed out of the building and filled the street. With signs and instruments in hands, they chanted “raise our pay” and “hero to zero.”