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Some Broward school board members raise concerns about six-figure compensation for teachers

Lower elementary teacher John Cearnal leads a math lesson with first-, second- and third-graders.
Elissa Nadworny
Elementary teacher John Cearnal leads a math lesson with first-, second- and third-graders.

A discussion on whether to significantly increase pay for Broward County teachers and principals has been postponed for another week, due to concerns the ambitious proposal feels rushed.

School Board Member Allen Zeman unveiled the proposal at a meeting Tuesday to raise average total compensation for teachers to $100,000 by 2025, up from an average of $78,000 today. That amount includes base salary, healthcare and retirement benefits.

Total compensation for principals and assistant principals would increase to an average of $150,000, up from about $137,000, according to Zeman.

“We need to make sure that we compensate our most valuable resource in a way that is a reflection of the respect that they're held in Broward County,” Zeman said. “We can do this. We should do this. And we should do it now.”

Fania Desinord is an ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher at Coconut Creek High School. She says at her current pay scale, she’s losing hope of ever buying a home in Broward.

“I stand before you to speak for my fellow teachers. We are tired,” Desinord told the board. “Please find the money. We need our salaries to increase. Year after year, teachers are leaving. They are not even making it past the winter break. They are at their wit's end."

The median price of a single-family home in Broward is $585,000, while a condo is $270,000, according to local realtors.

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Newly-minted Superintendent Peter Licata and other Board Members voiced support for the goal of increasing teacher pay, while cautioning that the proposal may be too ambitious of an undertaking in the few weeks left before the board must approve its new budget.

“To be able to do that that quickly and do it with a clean conscience, without destroying things out there, to reach a number … I can't support that idea,” Licata said. “Give me a runway here. Give me a year.”

The proposal comes at a time when the district may soon see a significant drop in enrollment — and per pupil funding — due to a new state law allowing all Florida students to receive a state voucher to enroll in private schools.

“Nobody in this room knows the impact of the scholarship program on our enrollment,” said Deputy Superintendent for Finance & Operations Judith Marte. “It is vitally important that we remain nimble. If we have a significant enrollment decrease that is unexpected, we are going to have to make some very difficult decisions.”

Multiple board members said they needed more details on Zeman’s plan to fund the pay increases.

“I think all of us feel the same way … we all want to pay teachers more and our principals more. We want to pay our staff more,” said Board Member Daniel Foganholi. “I don't think it's the what, it’s the how.”

Zeman says the funding for the pay increases would come from increased property values, a boost in state education funding, and the tax referendum approved by county voters in 2022, but he hasn’t released a formal breakdown of the funding plan on paper.

“I've gotten nothing in writing that helps me to see what that looks like. So I feel like maybe today isn’t the right time,” said Board Vice Chair Debbi Hixon.

Zeman has also advocated for cutting costs across the district — particularly contracts with outside contractors — and closing about 40 schools in the coming years.

“It is the right thing to do for Broward County students to repurpose schools. And if no one else on this board wants to say that, that's fine. But I am not ashamed to tell you what the truth is and what we need as a community,” Zeman said.

Board Chair Lori Alhadeff argued the proposal is also unfair to Licata, who is in his first full week on the job. She said the new superintendent deserves the chance to do his own assessment of the district’s finances and offer his own recommendations.

“I think it's a beautiful idea to pay everybody more money,” Alhadeff said. “I'm sure there is a lot of waste that is occurring, or repeating of services, or services not needed. But we have to give [Licata] that opportunity, that runway to be able to figure that out.”

Zeman had wanted the board to vote on the proposal on Tuesday, directing district staff to draft two budget scenarios to present to the board at the August 1 public hearing: district staff’s proposed budget, and a budget that includes the path to $100,000 total compensation for teachers and $150,000 total compensation for principals and assistant principals by 2025.

The board talked about the issue for more than two hours on Tuesday but ultimately voted 6-2 to postpone further discussion until a special board meeting on Tuesday, July 25.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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