BARTOW — Polk County School District officials applauded Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal to give $422 million in bonuses to 45,000 “highly effective” public school teachers and principals.
“Their work is absolutely vital, and they deserve to be compensated for the hard work they do for our children every day,” Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said in a statement published on the district’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon. “Unfortunately, as state funding has gotten tighter, it’s become more difficult for school districts to increase teacher pay. We’re excited by the governor’s announcement, and his proposal to realign funds for rewards.”
Chief Academic Officer Michael Akes echoed her sentiments in the statement.
“Our teachers deserve to be supported in any and every way,” Akes said. They dedicate their careers to our kids, to doing everything they can to help our students be successful in the classroom — and beyond.”
Associate Superintendent of Human Resource Services Teddra Porteous said the bonuses could help alleviate a teacher shortage. The district employs 6,725 teachers, but has openings for about 100 more listed on its webpage.
“Quite frankly, pay is one of the biggest challenges we face in recruiting and retaining highly qualified educators,” Porteous said. “Anything that makes the profession more appealing will help us get qualified, talented teachers into our classrooms — and that’s good for our kids.”
But the plan falls short of improving the conditions of the teaching profession, said Marianne Capoziello, head of the Polk Education Alliance teachers’ union, calling it a “bonus scheme.”
“We are very concerned about a budget that’s going to give bonuses to 45,000 teachers when there are about 185,000 teachers in the state — it leaves many teachers behind,” Capoziello said. “We don’t need a bonus scheme, we need money in teachers’ base pay, a way to see their wages go up meaningfully throughout their career — there-tomorrow, there-for-the-remainder-of-your-career wages.”
Capoziello said Florida ranks 45th in the nation in teacher salaries and 47th for para-professionals.
Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.