Editors note: This is the eighth part of ongoing coverage regarding Brevard County school teachers and their fight for better pay and classroom conditions.
BREVARD COUNTY – A wave of frustration was felt throughout the community when a 4-1 school board vote denied teachers the wage increase proposed by Brevard Federation of Teachers and a special magistrate.
After months of fighting for competitive pay, teachers across Brevard County were stunned when Brevard Public Schools (BPS) voted against Brevard Federation of Teachers (BFT) proposal of "Highly Effective" teachers receiving $2,300 per year and "Effective" receiving $1,725.
The June 24 school board impasse resolution meeting instead voted to approve Brevard Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Mullins' proposal of a 2.3% recurring raise of $1,100 for "Highly Effective" rated teachers and $825 for teachers rated "Effective".
Matt Susin, BPS District 4 board member and former Eau Gallie High School teacher, empathized with the plight of the county's teachers.
"We needed to win that,” Mr. Susin said. “We needed to get them at $2,300 and send them home. We probably would've saved 50 to 60 teachers that jumped ship."
Mr. Susin's vote was the only one in favor of the unions proposal and was largely based on the information presented at the June 24 meeting.
"I was trying to show next years reoccurring dollars, so that they could get a total number to say that if we needed six million here, and we found three and all we need is three more, the worst case scenario is we take it out of next years 11."
Mr. Susin said that he suspected encountering resistance with his colleagues to reach a vote that favored the teachers.
"I knew I couldn't get the board at $2,300. I figured if I could start proving we had the money for next year, I could send an amendment to make it $1,500, $1,600 or $1,700," Mr. Susin said. "Here's the reason for that: if we have the money already in the bank and we have the money that we have, why are we not giving it to the teachers now?"
According to Mr. Susin, the state had already given the school district its funding for next year, which could have been used to pay the offsetting cost of the increase in salary.
Teachers, as well as Mr. Susin himself, were visibly frustrated when the final vote was called. Many teachers began walking out of the meeting before it was adjourned.
A disconnect between administration and teachers has been prevalent throughout the impasse; one that Mr. Susin contributed to an underestimation of how many teachers were voicing their frustrations.
"I can tell you I've never been more mad on a dais than I was that day," Mr. Susin said. "We had almost 15 to 20 percent, arguably, of our entire workforce at a meeting wearing the same colored shirt asking for their pay. That's not a couple of people."
Anthony Collucci, BFT president, saluted Mr. Susin's vote at the school board meeting on June 25.
"Mr. Susin, on behalf of our teachers we want to thank you for staying true to your word on increasing teacher pay and, more importantly, voting on behalf of the best interest of students," Mr. Collucci said.
Moving forward, BPS will encounter the same problem facing the county as a whole: keeping its teachers in the classroom.
"Teachers in the district texted me the day after and [they] had applied to other districts, and they had jobs a day later," Mr. Susin said. "Retention is a problem. I think we as a district have a retention problem we need to address. I think that we're trying to, but I think we can do better."
Mr. Susin also elaborated on what he believes to be key solutions moving forward, which included aspects of teacher pay and overall support. Along with retaining teachers with better support both in the workplace and through their compensation, Mr. Susin pinpointed specific problems within wage earnings.
"We can throw down $2,300 for everybody, but we're not fixing the real problem, which is wage compression in the middle," Mr. Susin said. "We've got teachers that have worked 15 to 20 years that are making only $5,000 more than the time they started."
Other problems like overspending on travel for teacher workshops or conferences and added class periods have prioritized funds that could have been allotted to higher salaries.
"As a former teacher, I'd rather have a raise than be sent to a conference for the summer," Mr. Susin said. "Good teachers know how to teach and oftentimes we're sending a group of teachers to a conference for an in-service, when you can send one and they can come back and unpack it."
Although praising Dr. Mullins' role as a superintendent, Mr. Susin expressed concern that the vote "hardened" teachers.
"The good thing about Dr. Mullins is he identifies the problem," Mr. Susin said. "The question is how long does it take him to appropriately address that problem and to what degree."
The multiple areas of compensation problems aside, BPS faces an uphill battle to mend fences with its educators.
As the summer draws to a close, teachers will resume their roles in the classrooms and again work to negotiate a fair contract for the upcoming school year.