Can Further Negotiations Break the Deadlock between St. Johns County Teachers’ Union and the District?

In St. Johns County, Florida, the school district and teachers’ union are in negotiations over teacher pay. Last December, discussions were halted after the groups failed to reach a deal. The most recent proposal included a modest pay increase, but the county’s teachers rejected it, stating that it did not meet their needs. Many teachers have expressed that they cannot afford to live in the county. The district reports that the average salary for teachers in St. Johns County is slightly over $51,000, which many teachers argue is insufficient to make ends meet in an increasingly expensive county. Even if the district and union come to an agreement on Wednesday, it will be up to the district to determine how teachers will be paid. The St. Johns Education Association is advocating for a better pay raise for veteran teachers.

Kerri Gustavson, PTA President at Nease High School, moved to St. Johns County because of its highly rated schools. However, she has noticed a concerning trend. Gustavson received notification in October that one of her son’s long-term teachers had quit because he could not afford to support his family. Stories like this prompted Gustavson to launch the “Save Our Schools — St. Johns County, Florida” Facebook page. On Wednesday, both the district and the county’s teachers’ union presented their arguments about teacher pay to a special magistrate, who will make a recommendation for a compromise deal. Over the past few months, the district has claimed that the union is asking for too much. Union president Michelle Dillon disagrees, stating that the district can recruit and retain teachers for St. Johns County. Dillon suggested that one possible solution could be a millage rate increase, which has been implemented in other local counties. Gustavson believes that action must be taken now, saying, “I think the school district is going to look a lot different next year.”

At last week’s school board meeting, teacher pay was a significant topic of discussion during the public comment period. Many attendees spoke about how St. Johns County teachers are leaving for other districts that offer better pay. One man stated that he is moving to Nassau County because the base pay is higher. Some teachers have resorted to finding multiple side jobs to make ends meet. One teacher with a master’s degree and 24 years of experience said, “I still need to go to my second job. At least I don’t need to go to my third job, which is pet sitting. I scoop dog and cat poop to make ends meet.” Both sides will present their cases before the magistrate on Wednesday. A school district spokesperson stated that the special magistrate will have time to consider both arguments and then submit a recommendation for a compromise to the district and the union.