Puerto Rico Education secretary seeks $1.2 billion to raise salaries
Staff would be evaluated, receive training and work an hour and a half longer
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher on Sunday gave a presentation, titled “Effectively Improving the Education Department’s Workforce,” in which she proposed raising agency personnel salaries if they commit to improving certain areas and work several more hours each school day.
Keleher also requested a much larger fiscal year 2020 budget for her department, an increase of about $1.2 billion, to provide the raises, all while acknowledging that Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board would have to approve the increase.
The department secretary said staff would have their salaries raised if they concede to an evaluation by their school’s director. They would also have a longer workday to be available to meet with parents, faculty and students, before and after school, and receive training in several areas, such as in technology and the use of administrative tools.
“What is being proposed is to professionalize the workforce in the Education Department, it is aimed at the benefit not only of students, but also of the teachers and all other employees,” Keleher said. “We are not doing anything to impact acquired rights. We are proposing changes, but from a positive perspective, which comes from the intention to help not only Education Department employees, but also to improve the quality of the service that the students receive.”
Some of the changes Keleher proposed include an increase and matching of the salaries of teachers with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, “so that everyone will get paid the same” amount.
“The payment scale is tied to a teacher’s workday, who instead of working six hours, will work 7.5 hours, if they accept it,” Keleher said. “We propose the 7.5 hours because I need the teacher to be in the [classroom] in the morning to meet with the students, the parents, to attend to any administrative matter…. I need for the teachers to also stay [at school after students go home] so they can participate in faculty meetings, in professional development activities, and that this does not interfere with school hours. In exchange for what I’m asking, I’m giving a raise.”
In her presentation, Keleher noted that the island’s 21,807 public school teachers receive an average salary of $31,427 but would receive a $2,900-a-year raise. The 1,044 school directors would receive a raise of $1,752, while school caretakers would receive $1,000 and cafeteria workers $125. Finally, administrative employees would earn up to $395 more.
“Teachers are considered one of the decisive factors in the success of the students in the classroom and in their quality of life outside the classroom,” the presentation notes.
As for cafeteria staff, Keleher said they will receive a salary raise but they “have to give the students breakfast.”
With these changes, Keleher believes, the use of outside contractors could be reduced substantially, while minimizing the political influence in the contracting process at the Education Department.
Keleher further said she hoped the fiscal board will approve the budget increase, saying the Education Department has achieved reaching the average number of students per teacher the board had requested.
She also stressed that for the public education system to be able to contribute to the island’s economy, an investment has to be made. A slide in her presentation says that investing in education has shown it could generate economic long-term growth, “in Puerto Rico’s case, it’s projected to add some 0.16 percent to the Gross National Product [GNP] by 2048 and will continue growing.
–CyberNews contributed to this report.