Sylvester Peck asked his class to describe what his days are like, and a handful of students shouted “busy.”
Peck, an art instructor at Florida A&M University Developmental Research School, better known as FAMU DRS, keeps a tight schedule. In addition to teaching third, fourth, fifth and eighth grades as well as high school, Peck teaches men and women’s fitness at a local recreation center to help make ends meet.
Peck, who makes $34,267 after nearly two decades of teaching at DRS, said he constantly wonders whether he will have enough to support his family.
“Every teacher here is struggling,” Peck said. “Each teacher probably has two or three jobs.”
The DRS administration recently denied the DRS United Faculty of Florida bargaining team’s proposal of a 5 percent salary increase for teachers.
“The question was asked about the consideration of the UFF proposal, and they said, ‘No, that won’t happen,’ ” Peck said. “They said at the next legislative allocation, which is in March or April, that may be a consideration. But then again, that’s almost like a stalling tactic.”
Avery McKnight, vice president of legal affairs and general counsel at FAMU, did not see the administration’s decision as a denial. He said part of the dynamic of negotiations is that there is an ever-changing landscape financially.
“What was really presented to the FAMU DRS is that we need to have these conversations after the legislative session,” McKnight said. “It’s really more of a May/June conversation than an October/November conversation because the landscape is changing.”
The Florida Legislature developed a new way developmental research schools are funded about a decade ago, he said.
“When you start talking about increasing someone’s salary rate, you have to ask, ‘Is it sustainable?’ McKnight said. “The FAMU DRS has to manage a restricted source of funds. We need to wait and see what it is that the FAMU DRS unit can sustain for its budget.”
The average teacher salary at DRS is $34,100, according to an email from Elizabeth Davenport, president of the UFF-FAMU Chapter. However, two coaches and a dean were recently hired for $45,000 each, which violates the collective bargaining agreement, union officials said.
Article 23.2 of the 2012-2015 FAMU-DRS Collective Bargaining Agreement states, “All faculty hired after this agreement is in effect shall be paid $34100.”
The union may file an unfair labor practice for the contract breach.
Peck said to violate the agreement when that money could have been used to give current teachers a $1,000 raise is unfair.
“You have to try to find some rhyme or reason for it, and it just doesn’t add up,” he said. “It’s basically telling the other teachers, ‘You’re of no value.’ It’s a slap in the face.”
DRS teachers have not received a raise in four years. However, they received a $1,500 bonus in the spring, which Peck said was taxed at about a 33 percent rate.
Peck obtained his master’s degree in education from FAMU in 2010. The average teacher salary for those with a master’s degree in Leon County in the 2010-2011 academic year was $44,910, according to an education information record from the Florida Department of Education. Despite his salary, Peck loves teaching and will continue to fight for his beliefs.
“FAMU taught me how to fight, but now I’m fighting on the inside,” he said. “My fight is for DRS and getting its standards to where teachers are compensated for the profession that they’re in and compensated in a consistent and equitable manner.”
Peck believes a salary schedule is essential. He said there are steps in those schedules for number of years teachers have worked that go both vertically and laterally – vertically with years of service, and laterally with advanced degrees.
“The thing that needs to happen the most is the salary schedule, so any teacher coming in knows where they’re going to be in five to 10 years,” he said. “They know they can commit themselves to a place where they want to apply their skills and abilities. Because if you’re a teacher, you’re talking about the future – that’s what you’re developing.”
McKnight agrees that it is about the students.
“I’m confident that the union and the university will be able to address these issues that creates a further quality of education experience for our outstanding students at FAMU DRS,” he said. “Everybody understands that it’s about the students.”
However, McKnight said financially, it is a struggle.
“We’re just one of many DRS institutions that has to wisely utilize the resources that are entrusted into us by the state of Florida,” McKnight said. “Everybody’s not going to walk away happy – that’s why it’s called negotiations.”