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Education

Broward School Board Approves 2% Teacher Salary Increase, Siding Against Union

An acrobat twirled on aerial silks, a midriff-baring dancer performed on gold-and-black stilts, and hundreds of teachers in matching T-shirts lined up for balloon animals and popcorn.

It wasn't a carnival. It was a Broward County School Board meeting.

The Broward Teachers Union's themed protest sought to paint the Broward County Public Schools as a "circus" ahead of Tuesday night's seven-hour meeting at Plantation High School to resolve an impasse over salary negotiations.

After midnight, the School Board voted 6-3 to side with district administrators in providing the county’s teachers a 2% salary increase retroactive to July 2019. That’s in addition to the average 7% supplement teachers received after the successful 2018 ballot referendum. The union had been asking for up to 5%.

The board and administrators argued the district could not afford to spend any more on teacher salaries without risking a financial emergency that could trigger state intervention.

Superintendent Robert Runcie and his staff largely blamed the state Legislature for what they argued has been a systemic underfunding of public education. They also worried school budgets could take a hit if the coronavirus outbreak continues to threaten the state’s tourism economy.

Further, they were concerned about the effects of declining enrollment on the district’s revenue. Broward public schools have lost more than 3,000 students in recent years.

“At some point, there is no money,” Runcie said. “We are at that point.”

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Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
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WLRN
Hundreds of teachers packed the auditorium and an overflow area in the gym at Plantation High School for the March 10 impasse hearing.

Teachers union President Anna Fusco and attorney Mark Richard tried to convince the board the district had enough money to pay teachers more but was mismanaging the funds. They objected to administrators’ contention that the supplements funded by the 2018 property-tax increase should count as part of teachers’ annual raises this year, since the bumps are not permanent and must be renewed by voters every four years.

“Teachers are demoralized. Teachers are exhausted. Teachers feel under attack,” Richard told the board. “They’re looking to be on a team. And part of the team is to find every penny you can.”

Teachers packed the auditorium for the meeting, initially following the board’s rules to remain quiet by protesting silently in their seats. They waved small blue towels in the air in support of their union’s representatives and thrust their thumbs down when district representatives spoke. At multiple times throughout the meeting, teachers leapt to their feet and turned their backs on the stage, where the school board members and administrators sat.

The crowd was disruptive, at times, though. They stopped the meeting repeatedly by booing, yelling and even coughing at the same time.

School Board member Rosalind Osgood, who voted with the majority, said district and union staff need to improve their communications so salary negotiations are less contentious in the future.

“I just believe in us,” Osgood said. “I just think, together, we can solve these problems without having this divisiveness.”

While the School Board voted against the union on salaries, the elected officials did side with the union in adopting language that would help teachers get annual contract renewals if they are rated effective or highly effective under state-mandated performance evaluations.