On October 20, 2022, OCEA proposed a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) of 8.7% for all instructional employees. This would allow educators to continue paying their bills in the face of historically high inflation rates and economic instability.

On January 12, 2023 the district counter-proposed a one-time, non-recurring payment of $1,000 for instructional employees. OCEA did NOT accept this offer because we believe it completely disregards the intent of the COLA. Our bargaining survey in August indicated that instructional employees have little desire to receive a non-recurring payment. Such one-time lump-sums do not help employees moving forward as prices have been permanently raised. Educators deserve long-term increases which will contribute to the FRS retirement system. This counter-proposal ignores employee needs and lacks strategic planning to sustain long-term, high quality educators. The community trusts SDOC to provide the best future for all children in Osceola County, but this is not possible without investing in the future of educators as well.

Thousands of educators and community members have voiced their support for an 8.7% COLA through a petition, emails, phone calls, and heartfelt speeches to board members. This resulted in three board members signing the petition initially and advocating for an executive session to discuss the matter. However, such resolve seems to have disappeared. There is an adage, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” OCEA believes that it is time for employees to start squeaking again. We must draw upon our collective power and voice at the School Board meeting on Tuesday, January 17 at 5:30 at 817 Bill Beck Blvd, Kissimmee. A sea of red shirts will send the message that SDOC employees expect the School Board to provide true respect during these hard economic times.

OCEA recognizes that an 8.7% COLA would alter the $1.8 billion budget. Therefore, prior to COLA, OCEA had attempted to negotiate other improvements to educators’ compensation and working conditions. Our proposals included extra pay for substitute coverage and auto-split classes, compensation for oversized classes creating additional workload, and language to protect a tentative agreement from being implemented prior to ratification. SDOC counter-proposed with increases to a handful of athletic supplements, eliminations of some supplements, and additions of a few more. OCEA requested academic supplements be considered as well, yet SDOC admitted at the bargaining table that they do not know how much money is spent on supplements currently and that it comes out of the salary allocations. Additionally, SDOC counter-proposed language allowing principals to mandate teachers substitute for classes during planning periods and report to work one hour early the next day to earn their hourly pay. OCEA firmly rejected these concepts. Our commitment to educators is to fight for respectful working conditions and a more equitable solution to compensation.

We believe a COLA investment would show SDOC’s empathy for educators, help fill numerous vacancies, and address the lack of equitable pay for veteran educators. OCEA understands that we are facing a critical moment in education, and we are committed to ensuring SDOC has dedicated professionals for every student in the years to come. Likewise, SDOC’s Strategic Plan for Goal 2 Talent Management shows the need to reduce staff turnover, improve staff morale, and address the compression issue in salary. OCEA firmly believes the educators and professional support staff are doing their part to assist the district in meeting strategic goals every day. We believe the Cost of Living Adjustment would allow the district to do their part in achieving these goals as well. The counter-proposal of $1,000 does not address any of these issues.