The real pay increase for teachers will come next year.

As part of a broad scope of changes, minimum pay for new teachers will increase Sept. 1 to $4,300 a month, Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly announced Thursday to 600 government school educators who were attending a daylong program of training seminars at Red Bay Primary School.

The announced increase is just $100 more than the current minimum and well short of the $5,000-a-month goal the minister announced last year.

But, Ms. O’Connor-Connolly added, the minimum salary will increase to the $5,000 mark starting Sept. 1, 2019. She also said the increase at the bottom rung would trigger incremental increases across the pay scale.

“It will be a gradual increase all the way up,” Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said in comments after her address.

The minister also addressed plans to restart construction of the new John Gray High School. (See page 8 for that story.)

Trilby Lingard has been teaching music in the government schools for 25 years. She welcomed the news.

“I’m very happy these adjustments are being made,” Ms. Lingard said. “The minister has fulfilled her promises, so we’re very happy.”

The most applause during Ms. O’Connor-Connolly’s speech came when she announced a new policy that would allow for teachers to take personal leave on a case-by-case basis. She said Lyneth Monteith, director of the Department of Education, or her designee has the authority to grant paid days to teachers who might need to travel to see their child graduate college or get married, for example. Currently, any such leave is unpaid.

The minister cautioned teachers not to abuse the new policy.

Other new policies announced included the following:

  • To address a reported hiring hurdle, teachers hired during the middle of the year will now be paid over summer break.
  • An extra $1 million is being made available so that school inspections can be done every two years instead of every four.
  • The ministry plans to fund a study to look at the increase in students designated as special needs.
  • An additional 10 special needs teachers, including a speech therapist and occupational therapist will be hired, with two dedicated to Cayman Brac.
  • Artificial cover for sports fields at East End, North Side, Bodden Town and Red Bay primaries and Creek and Spot Bay junior school will be provided this year, with four more schools getting such fields in 2019-2020.
  • Replacement of specific vehicles, including a new 65-seat bus for Bodden Town Primary and two special needs vehicles with wheelchair lifts.

Dan Scott, chairman of the Education Council, said he believed the scope of the announced changes was “unprecedented” but that things had been put in place to make them happen.

“I think the time is right,” Mr. Scott said. “People are ready to really pick up the pace.”

Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said the fact that the government currently has a surplus is a key factor in making the changes possible.

Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, right, chats with teachers after her Thursday morning address at Mary Miller Hall, among them Domonique Watler of George Town Primary. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

“We’re in a financial position to meet more of the needs in a short span than previously,” she said.

Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush said he was happy to see some of the surplus going to education.

“For years, some of these changes have been talked about,” Mr. Bush said. “We have been stymied in one way or another. [Now] the budget will sustain the increase.”

Ms. O’Connor-Connolly also discussed the recently announced systemwide dress code, which requires, among other things, conservative dress and hairstyles, a ban on makeup and jewelry, and proper grooming.

“The million dollar question is how are we going to enforce this policy?” she said. “It has to start at home.”

She said she had been contacted by one mother whose child wears an afro-style hairdo. She wanted some guidance on how long was the “long hair” prohibited in the new policy.

“I could not help but think how far have we deviated, that we don’t know what is moral and decent for the child?” the minister said.

She said the system should be strongly enforced and suggested a “three strikes and you’re out” approach that applied to every child, no matter their pedigree. She did not detail what might be done with children reach the third strike.

“Let’s not systematically set up our children to fail,” she said, emphasizing her belief in the importance of a standard of appearance. “We must take pride in our stride.”

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