Teachers return to school with better pay

Sainte-Croix teachers demonstrate for better working conditions in May 2022. (AFT Local 1826 Facebook page)

Teachers returning to public school classrooms for the first full year of in-person teaching are also returning to work with better pay. After two years of negotiations with the teachers‘ union, Governor Albert Bryan said an agreement had been reached.

Therefore, teachers who are already on the Department of Education payroll will receive salaries, on average, of $48,000. One of the negotiators for the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1825, pegged the increase closer to $49,000 for teachers with bachelor’s degrees; more than $50,000 for master’s degree holders.

At a press conference Wednesday where he introduced a new commissioner for the Department of Education, Bryan called raising teachers’ salaries one of his administration’s priorities. He also expressed hope that it would inspire educators to help reverse the learning loss that students have suffered over the past two years.

Social restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have kept classrooms closed in most cases and relegated students to computer-based instruction. This fall marks a return to the classroom for thousands of U.S. Virgin Islands students in grades 4-12.

Acting Education Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington spoke of the ongoing challenge of staffing shortages, compounded by retirements and last-minute resignations. “We have vacancies, but we will make adjustments as needed,” Hedrington said.

Bryan said it bothered him to see public school teachers working part-time after hours in other locations when students needed more help. “We have so much learning loss. One of the things I’ve been working on is increasing teachers’ salaries,” the governor said.

Teachers’ union presidents—Leontyne Jones for St. Thomas-St. John and Rosa Soto-Thomas for St. Croix – led the talks that resulted in a three-year contract. On Wednesday, after the governor’s press conference, Jones called it a “really good deal.”

“Everyone felt he was long overdue for this contract,” Jones said. “It covers 2021, 2022 and 2023, but by the time negotiations were completed, the first two years of the contract had passed. The pay raises came and they got retroactive pay. From October 1, everyone will benefit from the third increase.

Jones added that the increases negotiated in the current contract represent an overall increase of 11%.

The governor said his goal is to raise the average teacher salary to $50,000, but that will be a stretch among other fiscal priorities the administration faces.

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