The Miami-Dade County school board on Monday approved new contracts that increase teacher pay and allow for the hiring of hundreds of new police officers, both efforts funded by the local property-tax increase voters approved in November.
While Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, school board members and labor union presidents offered largely celebratory comments, some of the local leaders also expressed anxiety that the state Legislature could respond to the influx of new local dollars by lowering its own share of support for public schools. The referendum, which passed with more than 70 percent of voters' support, is expected to raise about $232 million a year for four years.
"I hope our lawmakers understand that this referendum is not so that they can continue to underfund our public schools, because that is not what the community wants," said Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, a teachers union. "The community wants our legislators, our governor, to fund the public schools adequately, because, for too long, we’ve seen all the inequities are happening."
Former Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders have increased funding to schools consistently in recent years, albeit modestly, while school districts and unions have complained the bumps haven't been enough to account for inflation or cost-of-living increases. In the current state budget, the average increase in base funding for schools was 47 cents per student. Meanwhile, the Republican-led Legislature has also directed hundreds of millions toward alternatives to traditional public schools, like privately run charter schools and voucher programs.
The new agreement between the Miami-Dade district and United Teachers of Dade provides an annual supplement to teachers of anywhere from about $5,000 to about $18,500, with mid-career teachers getting the biggest boost. That's because they narrowly missed out on a hefty salary increase a few years ago, after the Legislature's decision to end tenure upended a previous pay scale. To that end, Carvalho said the new contract "addresses the harshness of the transition from the old step schedule over to new legislatively mandated compensation schedules."
But the supplements are temporary, and the new contract includes a permanent salary increase of only about 1 percent for most teachers. Hernandez-Mats blamed the Legislature for that, since the Miami-Dade district got among the lowest per-student increases in the state budget.
The contract allows for teachers to get a relatively small retroactive bonus effective Jan. 1, while they'll see most of the increase in their paychecks starting in July. There's a clause in the contract, though, that says it could be renegotiated if the Legislature doesn't provide enough funding to sustain it. Lawmakers convene in Tallahassee in March, and they aim to pass the 2019-2020 budget before the legislative session's scheduled end in early May.
The newly ratified contract could face a challenge from charter schools, which want a share of the funding to raise their own teachers' salaries, as reported by WLRN news partner the Miami Herald.
The school board also ratified a new contract with the Miami-Dade school district's police department. Carvalho said the referendum funding would allow for the hiring of 260 additional officers, which will help meet a new requirement passed after the Parkland school shooting that every school has at least one cop or armed guard.
Read the newly ratified contracts here: