SARASOTA COUNTY, FL- For the first time in five years, all full time Sarasota County school workers will be getting a raise. School officials believe it will not only put a few extra dollars in workers pockets, but will also have an impact on the rest of the local economy.
Sarasota County School Board members like Caroline Zucker unanimously approving the 3.25% pay increase. "I've just watched everyone take on more over the years as we have had to do more with less."
There have been some small bonuses but this is the first time the largest employer in Sarasota County with 5,000 plus workers has given raises since 2008.
"Our salaries have eroded as the cost of living has gone up. Social Security payments have gone up. Everything has gone up but our salaries." Barry Dubin with the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association says the cost of living has gone up more than 12% during that time. "I think the school board employees understood. We were in a major economic crisis in this country. I think people were very patient and understood. We had to wait for the economy to improve a little bit and it has."
More than $6 million of the nearly $8 million needed for the increase came from the state; initially just for classroom teachers. The school board electing to come up with a little more from savings to help spread the increase to those like bus drivers, custodians, counselors and other full time workers. "Let me tell you, those ladies that serve lunch every day, that's not an easy job," says Zucker.
The average teacher will see around a $1,700 a year bump. Money which could eventually make its way elsewhere in the community says Dubin. "A tremendous impact. You are putting $8 million into the local economy. For the most part teachers and classified staff spend just about 100% of their earning in the local area."
The increase could be fuel for critics of the school board. They're already campaigning against extending a referendum which asks local property owners to continue to pay extra for education. That vote is next March.
Zucker believes the community will support extending the tax. "We are doing a good job. Our staff is doing a good job. I am sure that this community is going to value the education we are providing."
We are told that extra money will start making its way into the community through paychecks within in the next month.
The Manatee County school district also approved raises with the state money last month.
Local school board leaders say they hope the state sets aside the additional funds in the coming years or the increases won't last long.