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A 'transformational' raise: thousands of public school workers see wages increase to $15 an hour

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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A food service employee works in the school cafeteria at Edison Park K-8 Center in Miami.

More than 15,000 workers at public schools across South Florida are in line for a raise: school districts face an Oct. 1 deadline to establish a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, after state lawmakers mandated the pay hike.

Members of AFSCME Local 1184, which represents non-instructional staff in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, will see that raise on paychecks that went out on Friday Sept. 23.

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Chapter President Phyllis LeFlore says the pay increase is a long time coming for her members, many of whom she says work second jobs to make ends meet, at a time when the cost of living in South Florida has risen dramatically.

According to LeFlore, some employees have worked for the district for decades and never cleared $15 an hour — until now.

"It's about time," LeFlore said.

“This is a win-win for the employees of Florida, for Miami-Dade Public Schools," she said. "This is a win-win."

LeFlore says a host of different employees are in line for the raises, including maintenance workers, food service workers and custodial staff.

But LeFlore says for some of her members, the pay increase may be a double-edged sword: for those living in subsidized housing, a higher income could also increase their rent, or make them ineligible for other social services.

In the past year, LeFlore says she’s been spending more of her time trying to find temporary housing for union members who are experiencing homelessness. She says many are still struggling under the cost of skyrocketing rents.

“It’s still going to always be a problem. Because we’re in Miami. And in Miami we will never catch up with the cost of living with $15 an hour,” LeFlore said. “What is $15 an hour to $2,000 rent? Or $2,500 rent? It’s nothing.”

An MDCPS spokesperson says some full-time non-instructional staff will be getting an additional 3% pay increase in October, including certain food service workers, mechanics and custodians.

According to human resources staff with MDCPS, some 10,600 of the district’s more than 34,400 employees are in line for a pay increase after the state mandated the $15 minimum wage.

In the School District of Palm Beach County, some 3,400 full-time staffers will see their pay increase, according to a spokesperson.

District staff in Broward County Public Schools say 1,800 permanent employees there are getting a raise.

A spokesperson for Monroe County Public Schools said that all of the district’s employees are already making at least $15 an hour.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, told WRLN in an interview in March that the raises will be transformational for workers on the lowest end of the pay scale in the state’s public schools.

“Our bus drivers, our custodians, our cafeteria workers - some of them can see pay increases upwards of $10,000 or more a year. Which is huge when you consider the struggle that so many people who work in our public schools are facing," Spar said.

Florida lawmakers mandated the pay raises as part of this year’s state budget. State lawmakers increased allocations to the Florida Education Finance Program, in part to help cover the new minimum wage. The FEFP allocates funding based on student enrollment and is a key source of revenue for local school districts.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter