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Sarasota County teachers protest low wages and low raises

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Hundreds of protestors, most of them teachers, were out here having their voices heard.

They lined Tamiami Trail in front of the school district headquarters in Sarasota for as far as the eye could see.  Teachers, aides and other employees of the Sarasota County School District were protesting what they say is some of the lowest salaries in the country for teachers and other school employees.

"We're not paid enough, but the idea that we will just lay down and accept whatever the board decides to give us is not who we are," said Jan McSween, an Aide for the Oak Park School.

Currently, teacher salaries in Sarasota County range from $44,000 to $64,000 a year or less depending on the school and the level of experience.  Many teachers say the cost of living continues to go up and salaries are staying the same with very little raises.

"If we are going to have an increase of under 1.5 percent which is under the cost of living, that is underpaid right there," said Ruby Walsworth, a teacher at Brookside Middle School.

Superintendent Todd Bowden's salary is $185,000 a year with an additional $15,000 a year of performance pay when goals are met.  He  tells us Sarasota County has some of the highest paid teachers in the state of Florida.  A lot of the protestors are upset with the potential raise the superintendent most likely will be receiving, while they say the teacher's raises are very small.  

"The offer that we have on the table is a 3 percent raise for teachers," said Bowden.  "I believe the sticking point is how that money is distributed, we believe that money should go to our highly effective teachers."

Although the protest was peaceful, those who participated are hoping they are being heard loud and clear.

"It's time for our school board and our new superintendent to know, our people need to be compensated better or they're not going to have any employees in Sarasota County," said Patricia Gardner, President of the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association.

At this time it's not known if and when this issue of pay and raises will be discussed at a future Sarasota County school board meeting.