Response to Jill Holcomb’s comments on teacher pay

My name is Lisa Harwas and I am the former president of O.C.E.A. However, I was president at the time of impasse. I feel compelled to respond to Jill Holcomb’s news article to correct some misinformation.

The magistrate did side with the district to pay employees a bonus, but he made this decision based on the salaries of like-size and contiguous counties from the 2016-2017 school year. Surrounding counties are giving raises to their teachers this year. One also needs to consider what Okeechobee has to offer to attract and retain new teachers. We do not have beautiful beaches, attractions or nice malls. It may take higher salaries to keep teachers working in Okeechobee. Also, the magistrate did not examine the district’s ability to pay. Our union presented our facts and figures at the hearing which included that the district historically over budgets their money. Attrition can easily pay for reoccurring salaries.

During the impasse hearing, the district had a very difficult time accounting for $1.2 million. It took a while before numbers were rambled by district that still did not equal the amount in question. Maybe it is time for an audit.

Also, it should be emphasized that the state funded the Best and Brightest bonus. In reality, what the district added to the $400,000 was $62,698 according to their figures. Bonuses are severely taxed and are not reoccurring.

I believe that the salary of school board members is close to $30,000 plus benefits. This is determined by the state. There are three seats currently up for re-election in the fall.

Mrs. Holcomb and I do agree that voters need to pay attention during elections. Our current governor and many of our legislatures have demonized public education to promote a charter school agenda. Taxes are being funneled into the pockets of investors while legislators continue to deplete the funds necessary to run our public schools efficiently. A good education is the key to our future. Teachers and classified employees deserve our respect and a raise for the most important job of all … educating our children.

Lisa Harwas

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