Broward teachers could be among the highest paid in the state, earning $80,000 by 2025, or $100,000 with benefits, under a proposal the School Board is reviewing.
The proposal comes from School Board member Allen Zeman, who first outlined it in an opinion piece Sunday in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The idea has created excitement among some teachers but also skepticism among some school district administrations and board members about whether the district can actually afford this.
Still, the majority of the School Board decided Tuesday the idea had enough merit to continue discussions at a meeting next week.
A district report shows that Broward teachers now make an average of $66,259 in base salary and supplements, not including benefits.
Under Zeman’s plan, that would increase to $79,478 by the 2025-26 school year and $82,514 the following year. The total package after benefits are included would exceed $100,000 starting in 2025, according to the proposal.
Zeman’s plan would also raise the average salary of a principal or an assistant principal from $114,258 to $127,871. The total package after benefits are added would exceed $155,000 starting in 2025, according to the proposal.
The plan would cost about $182 million over the next four years, according to district budget projections.
Zeman insists the School Board can afford these increases, saying the school district is getting a triple windfall this year, with a 9.1% increase in state funding, a larger tax base due to increased property values and a voter-approved tax increase to pay for teacher and employee supplements.
“If you can do something good, you must do something good, and I can’t imagine sitting on a board with this much money coming in and us not doing good,” Zeman said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Good is compensating our educators so they are paid in a way that’s somewhat consistent with the value and respect that the community places them and contributes not just to their ability to live near where they work but to stay longer.”
But Zeman’s idea may also include closing about 40 low-enrolled schools, an idea that is likely to create controversy once the specific schools are identified. New Superintendent Peter Licata said that’s a proposal that needs community input, and he doesn’t expect to close any schools for the 2023-24 school year. But he said it’s a serious possibility in future years.
Zeman wants the School Board to consider two scenarios at its upcoming budget meetings: a traditional budget that district staff has already developed and an alternate budget that would include the aggressive plan to raise salaries.
“The public gets to see something it would value very much and has never seen in the history of Broward County, which is two budgets laid side by side and they can say in a public hearing which one they like,” Zeman said.
The School Board stopped short of approving Zeman’s proposal but agreed to put the idea on the agendas for two July 25 meetings: a workshop to discuss it more thoroughly and a special meeting to approve it if there’s interest. If approved next Tuesday, school district staff would draft the alternate budget for the public to review at a September budget workshop.
“Dr. Zeman, I appreciate your spirit, your boldness and your intention,” Board member Jeff Holness said. “We all feel the same. We want to give teachers as much as we can.”
Licata, who started last week, said he likes the idea but is worried about moving too fast. He said employee pay must be negotiated with unions and there may be technology and security demands. Student services would be affected if contracts get cut without a thorough review, he said.
“I think to rush it through would be non-prudent of us to make such big decisions where it could have residual effects for the long-term if we’re not careful,” Licata said.
Board member Debbi Hixon said she too worries about what may get sacrificed to make big increases to employee pay. She also worries that the plan is based largely on voter-approved referendum dollars, which will expire in four years if not re-approved by voters.
“I don’t want to promise teachers and principals and AP’s something I don’t know we can deliver,” she said. “There’s a good chance if we do this, we’ll be firing people.”
Zeman said he thinks budget cuts can be handled through attrition without people getting fired or laid off. He also voiced frustration at the resistance he saw on the dais during the 2 ½-hour discussion.
“Broward Schools are allergic to change. Our budgets are photocopies of last year’s,” Zeman said.
Many teachers issued comments of support, both in person and in written comments.
“The cost of living in South Florida is ridiculously high and we can’t get by with our salary,” teacher Leonel Jimenez wrote to the board. “Look at the issues we are having with hiring new teachers. No one wants to do it!!!! Change needs to be a priority.”