SEBRING - Ninety-six percent of Highlands County teachers received some kind of a pay raise this school year as part of $480 million the Florida Legislature approved last year in educator raises.
School districts had to negotiate pay hikes with the local teachers union, but administrators and support staff also were included in what Highlands County School District Human Resources Director Vivian Waldron called the first "significant" pay raise for school district employees in a few years.
Pay hikes were given according to whether teachers and administrators were rated "effective" or "highly effective" in their evaluations as part of the statewide merit pay.
Highlands County teachers union president Carla Rice said while teachers were happy to get something, they would have preferred a more equitable distribution that didn't come with a caveat set by the Florida Legislature.
"All of our teachers work at fever pitch," she said. "Everybody works extra hours. There are so many children who come from backgrounds that don't support education. We are dealt the cards we are dealt."
Waldron said raises for teachers also depended on whether they had seniority and tenure or whether they were on annual contracts, although the increase was nominal - by a token dollar - because state law requires that teachers on contracts get paid higher than those who have been "grandfathered" in.
Highly effective teachers got $2,261 each and effective teachers received $1,773. Thirty-five percent of teachers were rated highly effective and 61 percent were considered effective.
Support personnel got between 1 to 2 percent raises.
One principal and three assistant principals were rated highly effective and got a slightly higher raise than their counterparts.
The raises also varied depending on the grade levels of the schools: high school principals and assistant principals got the highest raises.
Waldron provided the breakdown:
High school, effective: $2,162
High school, highly effective: $2,757
Middle school, effective: $1,956
Middle school, highly effective: $2,494
Elementary school, effective: $1,926
Elementary school, highly effective: $2,456
High school, effective: $2,680
High school, highly effective; $3,418
Middle school, effective: $2,485
Middle school, highly effective: $3,169
Elementary school, effective: $2,414
Elementary school, highly effective: $3,078
The pay raises were effective starting October, making Highlands County one of the first school districts to get the pay plan approved by their union and the Florida Department of Education.
The Highlands County School District had been working on it for a year, Waldron said.
"We did our homework," she said. "We did preparatory work."
Some readers who commented on Highlands Today's Facebook page applauded the pay raises as long overdue.
Adrienne Wheeler said her mom is a teacher in Highlands County and sees first-hand "how hard they work."
Kathy Collier said everyone deserves at least a cost-of-living raise once in a while
"'Be glad you have a job' gets a little old when you have bills to pay and food to buy. Congratulations on finally be recognized for the hard work you do!!," she added.