As Miami Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho blames Tallahassee legislators for failing to overhaul the standardized testing system used to evaluate student and teacher performance, a growing chorus of disgruntled rank-and-file teachers accuse him, the school board and the teacher’s union of breaking state law governing their employment contract.
In recent weeks, at school board meetings and on social media, dozens of teachers have denounced the agreement negotiated in August by the school district and United Teachers of Dade, alleging the terms do away with significant pay raises they were due in 2014.
During last year’s legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott signed off on funding that allows school districts to implement a new system for doling out raises based on teacher work performance. Broward County Public Schools, for example, approved the new system in March.
A Facebook group called “#Teacher Strong MDCPS Employees, you are worth more,” has amassed more than 3,500 members in less than two months and has become a place for teachers to vent. A majority of the commenters are teachers at Miami-Dade Public Schools.
Sarah Hays Duffort, a teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High in southwest Miami-Dade, is one of the more vocal critics. She said in an interview that many educators feel disillusioned under Carvalho, the American Association of School Administrators’ 2014 national superintendent of the year.
“We are frustrated,” Hays said. “We are bearing the brunt of this management.”
In late August, district officials said they reached a deal with the union that includes about a three percent salary increase and another one percent healthcare salary savings to teachers and educational support personnel. At the time, Carvalho issued a statement praising its terms.
“This historic agreement represents our investment, both intellectually and financially, in the value of our teachers and the work they do,” Carvalho said then. “Despite years of economic challenges and tax shortfalls, we were still able to negotiate an agreement that dignifies and honors the teaching profession.”
But a sizable representation of the teacher’s union didn’t agree, and 40 percent of its members voted against the contract last month only days before the school board approved it.
Hays, two other teachers interviewed by FloridaBulldog.org, and scores of their colleagues on Facebook contend the contract is illegal under a state law approved in 2011 that divided teachers into two categories and created different pay raise schedules for tenured and non-tenured employees.
Under the law, teachers hired before July 1, 2014 are grandfathered into a salary schedule that bases salary increases on their tenure. Those hired after that date qualify for raises based on work performance, including how their students fare on standardized tests. The teachers who object to the new contract say it does not differentiate “grandfathered” teachers from non-tenured teachers and that the three percent pay increase is considerably less than what the law requires.
School district officials insisted the teachers’ contract is legal and fair.
“Current amendments to state law define what constitutes a ‘grandfathered salary schedule’ and the district adhered to said requirements in negotiating the present labor contract,” said School Board Attorney Walter Harvey in an email response to Florida Bulldog. “As stated in the agreement with UTD, the new salary schedule will serve as both the grandfathered and the performance pay salary schedules.”
Jose L. Dotres, who heads the district’s Human Capital Management Office, said by email that the new agreement evens the playing field.
“The new salary schedule provides [Miami-Dade Public Schools] the ability to negotiate increases that value all teachers,” Dotres said. “Because salaries are negotiated on a yearly basis with UTD, teacher compensation will generally increase rather than remain at current levels.”
Teacher Hays lacks confidence in the school district’s assurances. She said that under the school district’s interpretation she would be considered a non-tenured teacher whose work performance determines the size of her raise – even though she has worked six years for the district. The reason: she was hired on a year-to-year basis and is not classified as a permanent employee.
State law requires school districts to come up with a formula that rates non-tenured teachers from “highly ineffective” to “highly effective.” Non-tenured teachers who score “unsatisfactory” and “needs improvement” can be placed on probation, while those who rate “effective” and “highly effective” would get annual raises of $2,500 and $3,500, respectively. Tenured or “grandfathered” teachers, on the other hand, would get salary increases based on the number of years they have worked for a school district.
Hays, who makes close to $42,000 annually, said she has no problem having her work performance evaluated, saying she has always received a rating of “highly effective.” But under the pay scale negotiated in the UTD contract, he says, she will get a meager salary bump of $837.
“I do a good job and I am fine with accountability,” Hays said. “I figured once they get the performance pay schedule in motion I will have some type of benefit. The problem is the benefit [of raises based on her performance] never comes.”
Thais Alvarez, a teacher at Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 center who posts criticisms regularly on the Facebook page, said she qualifies to be grandfathered because she has been a permanent district employee since 2007. Alvarez said she has not received a raise in almost five years as they waited for the legislature and the school district to set up the new salary raise system.
“It’s a huge impact because teachers like myself were supposed to see greater increases in our later years,” Alvarez said. “I was anxiously waiting to get salary increases of $2,000 to $3,000. I thought it was worth the sacrifice because eventually my salary would go up.”
Alvarez said there are teachers earning $30,000 a year for as long as a decade who under the new system will see only a $600 increase under the deal, while others no longer can count on future earnings to put away for their retirement.
“While it is factually accurate that they are giving us a pay increase,” Alvarez said. “It cannot be called a raise when you factor in the cost of living, medical expenses and higher contributions to our pensions.”
Natalia Guevara, a Ferguson High chemistry teacher with a masters’ degree in public health, said she recently obtained a real estate license and plans to moonlight as a realtor to supplement her $49,000 yearly salary. A district employee on a year-to-year contract since 2009, Guevara said she maintains a “highly effective” rating for the past three years, but has yet to see a raise.
“Personally it is very disappointing,” Guevara said. “I bust my ass every day grading papers, running the science honors society, and getting the kids involved. If I am doing my job well, I should be rewarded.”