Collier School District: Teacher raises on hold indefinitely

Collier school teachers might not get a raise anytime soon, according to the district's most recent salary proposal.

At tonight's negotiation meeting, the Collier teachers union is prepared to counter the district's proposal that teachers will not receive a salary step increase this year if the district projects a budget deficit for the next three years. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at the district administrative office.

"We've been knee deep in this for the last couple of months," district chief operations officer Michele LaBute said of balancing the district budget. "We cannot afford to give a salary increase in any form."

Jonathan Tuttle, executive director of the Collier County Education Association, said the union will counter the proposal but would not comment on details.

This year, the district expects to take $18.6 million out of reserves to make ends meet. Last year, it used $25.1 million. If this trend continues, by the 2014-15 school year the district could be $30 million short of making ends meet. According to the proposal, salary increments will not be paid if the financial condition of the district shows a deficit over the next three year period.

The cost of the step raise next year for teachers alone would be more than $4 million. The cost for the entire district would be more than $5 million.

The last time the district froze teacher salaries was in 2010-11. Last year, teachers received a three percent raise to offset the state-mandated retirement contribution. In essence, Collier teachers today are making the same salary as in 2009-10.

LaBute said the district has enough money to cover salary steps for this year but that by the 2013-14 school year, the district estimates it would be $5 million short.

LaBute and Collier Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said the district is trying to preserve as many jobs and programs as possible but that personnel cuts are imminent. Central office staff and school administrators also will be expected to take furlough days during the 2012-13 school year. Almost 75 percent of the district's expenses are in staff.

She said the district will have to present possible budget cuts to the School Board at the May 8 board meeting. The district hopes this will save at least $10 million.

"We don't see it getting any better," LaBute said.

Tuttle said the union is looking at the district budget and predictions to come up with a reasonable response.

Both the district and the union agree that much of the financial concerns stem from the lack of state funding.

Compared to the 2007-08 school year, per student funding is down $879, even with the additional $1 billion from the Legislature this year.

The School Board will approve the final budget in September.

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