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Sarasota teachers say they deserve a pay increase

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Teachers and staff recently gathered outside of the Sarasota County School Board building protesting what they feel is unfair pay.

"The idea that we will just lay down and accept whatever the board decides to give us is not who we are," said Oak Park Aid Jan McSween.

 The timing isn't random. The School District is currently in negotiations with the teachers union to hash out what the teachers should be paid.

"We're very close on money. And, we're in agreement on how that money should be distributed. I would say it's a traditional settlement one that uses terms like across the board percentage raises," said Superindendent Todd Bowden.

As it stands the money breaks down like this. The district wants a 3.25% increase for performance based teachers, 3% for grandfathered and 3.50% for classified staff. Where the union wants a 3.50% increase across the board.

While the three percent increase is sorted out, some teachers are unhappy that Superintendent Bowden is set for a $15,000 bonus. However, Bowden refutes that argument, "I've not recieved a salary increase since becoming Superintendent."

Bowden's contract specifies he earns $185,000 a year. Plus, the $15,000 bonus depending on school district performance.

"Overall performance of the district. The performance of our students in the lowest quartile in reading and math. Those will be taken up at the end of the year and they will decide what my annual increase will be for the 2018-2019 school year," Bowden said.

While Bowden could get a large bonus... teachers worry their's may not be enough.

"It's getting harder and harder to buy a home here for our people. It's getting harder and harder to pay rent. One of our teachers applied for an apartment in south county and didn't even qualify for the rent," said Classified Teachers Union President Patricia Gardner.

The average teachers salary in Sarasota, according to the Florida Department of Education, is $55,000 a year. How that get's paid in the next school year is the question.

"The pool of money we're working with in 2018-2019 is identical to the pool of money we have in 2017-2018. The hang up is how do you distribute that money," said Bowden.

The Florida Legislature ordered school districts to follow what's called "performance pay." Meaning a teacher would earn an increased salary based on their effectiveness as teachers.

Currently, of the 2,761 teachers in Sarasota, only 19 are below effectiveness.

The teachers union president, Patricia Gardner says the district needs to get ahold of the finances or risk losing teachers, "They're going to have a teachers shortage like they've never seen before."

The teachers say they're not paid fairly. The district says they're paid higher than most other teachers.

"When you look at average teacher salaries for all 67 counties we show we have the second highest average salary of any district in the state," Bowden said.

We pulled the Florida Department of Education numbers and found that Sarasota County is the third highest paid district falling only behind Monroe and Broward County Schools.

Still, with a high cost of living in Sarasota, teachers like Jan McSween say they deserve more, "We earn way more than what we're paid and its time we stand up and made it known that we earned more."

The School District and the Teachers Union continue negotiations Monday, the 29th of January.