District, union reach tentative agreement on teacher salaries

Osceola County School District has reached a tentative agreement with the local teacher and support staff union for next year’s wage increases.

The two groups have also agreed to launch a Wellness Incentives program to mitigate rising employee health care premiums.

But it may be back to the bargaining table if Osceola County receives extra state dollars next month.  

The district announced details of the tentative agreement April 6, citing up to $1,200 annual salary increases for highly effective teachers, 30 cent per hour raises for support staff and a $400 bump in starting teacher salaries.

But things could change when the 2019 state legislative session ends in May. Both parties agreed that if Osceola County receives additional unrestricted Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) money, the deal is up for negotiation again.  

Apryle Jackson, president of the Osceola County Education Association (OCEA), the union representing teachers and support staff, said she wants to see any extra funds go to boosting long-time teachers’ salaries.

“If the money is there, we want a longevity retention bonus put in place,” Jackson said. “People who should be making well over $60,000 a year are making $55,000 or a little less, and we want to fix that.”

Still, the bargaining process this year ran more smoothly than last year, when hikes in employee health care premiums led to emotional school board meetings and outcry from teachers.

The jumps in monthly health insurance costs resulted from escalating debt in the district’s Health Benefits Trust Fund.

Family and spouse plans were hit hardest, while the district managed to maintain a free single employee health care option.

Jackson said talks remained amiable this year because OCEA and the district agreed on a new Wellness Incentives plan. Employees who comply with certain criteria, such as undergoing an annual physical and lab work, won’t face higher premium increases.

The district originally proposed introducing a surcharge penalty for employees who smoke, but Jackson said the union saw the Wellness Incentives as a better alternative.

“A big cause of the higher insurance costs the district is taking on is due to cataphoric illnesses of some employees,” Jackson said. “Our hope is that by requiring people to get check-ups, to get evaluated, some of those major illnesses can be prevented or caught early and it will keep costs down over time.”

OCEA ratification of the teacher contract will occur in May and the agreement will then be brought to the School Board for approval. The goal is to get the contract approved before the end of the school year.

Some perks for teachers in the tentative agreement include:

 $1,200 for instructional employees who receive a “highly effective” final evaluation from the district.

 $1,150 for instructional staff “grandfathered in” to an older agreement and who receive an “effective” or “highly effective” final rating.

 $900 for all other teachers who receive an “effective” final evaluation.

 A $400 increase in teacher starting salary for the 2019-20 school year, from $41,000 to $41,400.