Negotiations between the district and union have already started.
More than 100 people, including teachers and school staff wearing red, gathered less than three blocks from the Volusia County School District building where they would soon be headed to voice their concerns with the school board.
The Tuesday, May 8, march was part of a continuing effort of the Volusia United Educators Organization that has been in negotiations with the district for better pay and benefits. Several of the participants of the march later spoke about their concerns during the board meeting.
Negotiations have already resulted in the signing off of 11 articles of the agreement. However, the district sent out a press release stating that the state legislature's allocation of 47 cents per student has made negotiations difficult.
“We are doing a disservice to the public and our employees if we do not recognize the reality of education funding in Florida,” Volusia County Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Debra Muller said in the release. “Our board continues to make employee pay a top priority with the resources given to us by Tallahassee.”
Union President Andrew Spar said that while he agrees that the state has underfunded schools, he feels there is still more the district could do to assist with the work and demands on teachers and staff. Spar said he has seen Volusia County continue to lose teachers due to low pay, poor work environment and a disconnect between the district and educators.
Among the union's desired changes is a proposal for a 10.5% raise between 2018 and 2021.
Amy Dorton, treasurer of the Volusia United Educators and a teacher at Forest Lake Elementary, said that in addition to salaries she is concerned with health insurance being increased and the district's contribution to dental insurance being eliminated. There has already been a proposal to increase the elementary school work day, a possibility that Dorton is also concerned with, along with the proposed changes to professional attire.
"There's a lot more at stake than just money," Dorton said. "But we have 150 vacancies for teaching positions in Volusia County and the bargaining committee has made it clear that their number one priority is whether or not I'm wearing blue jeans."
Debbie Flaherty, a district compliance specialist currently at Palm Terrace and Sugar Mill Elementary, said the district is at risk of losing teachers to surrounding counties if teachers and staff do not receive benefits that promote their jobs.
"We are in a situation now, unfortunately, where our school district tells us they don't have money for appropriate wages," Flaherty said. "Teachers' salaries need to be a priority ... teachers need to be validated."
She said that with what the district is proposing, the amount of money being offered will be eaten up due to an increase in insurance and loss of dental insurance.
"I would just like to knock some sense into the school board," Denise Girard, a teacher with Volusia online learning, said. "I've made a commitment to this district and I'm ready to walk out things have been so bad."
Negotiations with the union are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, May 15.