Students Rachael Mehrara, middle left, and Alexandra Chavez-Earls, 13, use an iPhone in class in Chandler, Ariz.(Photo: Michael Schennum, The Arizona Republic)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida teachers are pleased with Gov. Rick Scott's pay raise proposal, but they're skeptical too.
Scott says he wants to give every full-time teacher in Florida a $2,500 raise next year. The governor says teachers work hard and they're getting good results in the classroom.
Teachers call the proposal a step in the right direction.
But even if Scott convinces the Legislature to spend an extra $480 million for the program, teachers are skeptical the money will end up in their pockets since school districts struggle with tight budgets.
And teachers are still irked that Scott pushed through a three percent salary cut for public workers to pay for pension costs.
Candace Gautney, a 5th grade teacher at Ruediger Elementary School in Tallahassee, says she's been teaching for nine years but still makes a starting teacher's salary.
"It's difficult but we're in it for the kids and not for the money. We knew that coming into it but in the same respect it would be nice to have a little bit more so we could improve our livelihoods as well."
Gautney can't help but wonder if Scott's proposal is driven by politics.
"It's interesting how an election is coming up and now all of a sudden he's trying to make all the teachers happy."
The Florida Education Association is not happy that the proposal excludes other workers in schools.
FEA Vice President Joanne McCall says state leaders should not forget all the custodians, lunch room workers, teachers' aides, secretaries and principals who deserve a raise too.
McCall adds that the $2,500 raise would put teachers' salaries back to where they were before they started paying the pension contribution and the new two percent hike in social security taxes.
"I think it's a step in the right direction, although we have to be cautious and think about what it really means. When we're talking about a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for teachers, that's important, but teachers have lost three percent for their retirement and they just now had to start paying back the social security, which is 2 percent, which equates to 5 percent."
McCall says if you do the math and figure 5 percent of $50,000, which is near the average teacher salary in Florida, that's $2,500.
"So you're actually just getting most people back to where they were."
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford says he applauds the governor's proposal, but Weatherford expects House members to debate whether that money should be tied to Florida's merit pay program.
"I think everybody believes that we need to find a way to continue to fund our teachers and give them more resources. I do believe the Florida House has a pretty strong opinion with regard to how to fund it and certainly merit pay is an area that we should be looking at very closely."
Florida teachers earn on average about $46,000 a year. McCall says that's $10,000 less than the national average.
First Coast News