Polk County Public Schools teachers, paraeducators and some support staff will receive their pay raises — including a lump sum dating back to July 1 — in time for Christmas, following accusations by the Polk Education Association teachers union this week of broken promises.
PCPS Superintendent Fred Heid announced on Friday that the scheduled Dec. 29 paycheck is being moved up to Dec. 22.
“Our mistake was not taking a more proactive position in communicating the outcomes of what was bargained and the timeline that employees can expect to see changes to their paychecks,” Heid said in a district-wide email sent out Friday afternoon. “This will not occur again and going forward we will provide a summary of any resulting language changes and the timeline for payroll changes to be reflected in employee paychecks.”
The district’s negotiating team and the PEA bargaining unit agreed on the contract, including raises for teachers, two months ago. In October, the PEA membership (which is about half of the district’s teaching staff) overwhelmingly ratified the contract and the School Board members approved it during their Oct. 24 meeting.
The confusion arose in October when Anne Pasco, assistant superintendent of IT, told PEA officials verbally outside of the negotiating room that her payroll computer system would be updated by Thanksgiving. She told LkldNow that she also explained to PEA officials that Chief of Staff Jason Pitts and Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Ben Warren were the lead negotiators and responsible for when the pay raises would be issued.
Heid said during an Oct. 24 School Board work session that if the School Board approved the contract that night, it would allow district officials enough time to process payroll for 14,000 employees prior to winter break. Pitts clarified during that same meeting that employees would see all retro pay increases dating back to July 1 in their December 29 paycheck.
“At no time prior to that had the district committed to issuing raises by November 30,” Heid said in an email to staff. “This is an impossibility as there are only 17 workdays between the board’s approval of the new contract terms on October 24th and the end of November.”
Pasco told the School Board on Tuesday that she and her staff have been working weekends and 12-hour days to input all of the data for each of the employees impacted by the raise. She added that their payroll computer system dates back to 2011.
Increases and bonuses for teachers are given based on years of service, the education level they have attained, if they have achieved National Board certification, whether they teach at a struggling school and if they teach an extra class every day — all of which has to be entered into the payroll system.
But PEA President Stehanie Yocum thought Pasco’s comment about her payroll computer system meant the raises would also be ready by Thanksgiving. On Friday, Yocum issued a statement to teachers.
“Your union is exceedingly pleased with the statement released today by Mr. Heid regarding raises and retro pay being released BEFORE the end of December,” Yocum wrote. “THANK YOU to each and every one of you who sent an email to district leadership and the school board to let them know the ways in which their previous decision was going to negatively impact you and your family and to show them how much this issue mattered. This is the power of collective action! This is solidarity!”
The PEA is currently in the midst of a membership drive.
In the last two years, Heid has not only sent his bargaining team into meetings with PEA, he has attended the bargaining sessions personally — something his predecessor, Jacqueline Byrd, never did. The two sides working together have secured three raises in under two years.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature mandated in 2021 that starting salaries in each district be brought up to $47,500. But that had beginning teachers earning the same as veteran teachers with a dozen years of tenure. The last contract negotiation dealt with increasing the pay of teachers with one to 12 years of experience.
“I don’t believe that any other district has worked as aggressively or collaboratively as we have to address the issue of employee compensation,” Heid said in his email. “You would be hard pressed to find another district that has negotiated three contracts with the same collective bargaining unit within a 24-month period of time. The district also worked to accelerate the timeline to implement the mandatory base salary set by the state to allow us to begin addressing the compression created by this issue.”
He added that he did not believe any other district has invested more than $21 million dollars over the last two years to ensure that employees have a fully funded insurance plan. Teachers do not pay anything toward their health insurance, although they do pay for their spouse and/or children.
“It is always our intent to provide as much compensation as possible to all employees. Therefore, we always bargain in good faith,” Heid wrote. “We are also committed to doing what is right for our employees. I believe that we have consistently shown our commitment in this regard.”
Heid said following the Thanksgiving break, the payroll department will send out additional information to all teachers, paras, and education support personnel regarding salary level placements, including specific dollar amounts employees should be expecting.
“The new process that would allow employees to preview their new paycheck that was discussed at the October 24th work session, will not occur,” Heid said. “Employees will need to address any payroll concerns with Human Resources following the winter break.”
The district’s negotiating team isn’t finished, though.
Heid said they will meet with leaders of the non-teachers union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and negotiations “will continue (and hopefully finalize) on Tuesday, November 28th. Following that settlement, information regarding raises for non-union staff will be shared.”
SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: firstname.lastname@example.org