The Lee County School Board wishes you, your family and friends a blessed Thanksgiving. As we think about the many things for which we are grateful, I hope some thought will be given to those who have contributed greatly this past year—the principals, teachers and staff of the Lee County School District.
Not only did many open their schools and resources to the community in September; year round they give their time and talent to students, families, and the community far in excess of the hours they are contracted to work. In many ways, Hurricane Irma showed how our SDLC family is the backbone and heart of the Lee County community. We also know that a great school district is one of the most important economic drivers of a community, having a profound effect on factors such as growth, average wage of population and property values. So how do we support these dedicated professionals?
Every year the School Board and Superintendent struggle mightily to compensate District staff for their work. Their salary and benefits are carved out of the operating funds determined annually by the Florida Legislature and Governor using metrics that result in per pupil funding for each school district.
In 2007-08, the state allocated $7,399 per pupil. Ten years later, the District received $7,418 per pupil, a $19 increase in 10 years. During that time, the School District of Lee County managed to increase teacher salaries an average of three percent per year by improving operational efficiency and redirecting revenue from other costs centers to salaries and benefits. But we also had to reduce support services for students and teachers. Our ratios of student counselors, psychologists, and social workers to students are higher than state and national averages.
Last year the Florida Legislature created a bonus program called “The Best and Brightest” for teachers. The bonus is based on standardized tests that teachers took when they were in high school, not on their performance in the classroom. There is no research to support a positive correlation between teaching effectiveness and high school test scores.
In addition, the Legislature has made it difficult to fund educator salary increases by lowering the level of property taxes that go to public education and underfunding line items like transportation and classroom size caps.
Some argue that teachers and associated staff earn competitive compensation for their work; that salary value (salary relative to the cost of living) is the important measure of compensation for educational professionals. Others suggest that better benefits compensate for lower salaries.
Try these facts:
- Teachers in Florida earn 75% of the salary that other college graduates receive in the state. Adjusting for benefits, teachers earn 11.1% less than comparable workers.
- The average teacher is priced out of much of the Lee County rental housing market which increased at an annualized rate of 9.6% March 2013 to April 2016 and is estimated to increase by 3.9% annually until 2019.
We all know, and research supports, that an effective teacher is the most important school based determinant of educational outcomes. But the teacher supply is shrinking because of non-competitive compensation and increasing state intervention in the classroom and school district management.
Please express your gratitude for the work of Lee County educators by urging our elected representatives to support our Legislative Priority #1. We are asking the state to fund a pilot program that we believe can be used across the state to recruit and retain effective and highly effective teachers. We have created a career ladder that allows us to pay our teachers more while keeping them in the classroom. We have established a Grow Your Own program that targets potential teachers and provides them the education and training they need to be successful. To learn more about our priorities and how they impact students, visit www.leeschools.net/legislative-priorities.
Growing the local economy with graduates ready to enter the Southwest Florida job market, or those going off to college, requires a high quality education. We cannot do that without the talent, dedication and hard work of our teachers.
Cathleen O'Daniel Morgan
Lee County School Board Chairman, District 7