Chris Alianiello, a former Orlando elementary school teacher, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education, claiming that they allowed employer taxes to be wrongfully taken from bonuses, costing teachers hundreds of dollars per check.
According to the lawsuit, the state let school districts pay teachers less than the bonus amounts required in the “Best and Brightest” program. The districts were given the go ahead to deduct from bonus taxes owed by the employer. Alianiello’s lawyers estimate that more than 100,000 teachers are owed between $25 million and $30 million for the past two school years.
“Teachers in the state of Florida are routinely underpaid,” Alianiello said. “I want to get the money that was owed to me and I want to make sure the tens or hundreds of thousands of teachers get their fair share.”
Alianiello said he received the bonus as a first year teacher in 2018 because of his top college admissions test scores and won it again the following year.
After two years of teaching, Alianello said he wasn’t asked to return to Union Park and hasn’t continued teaching. He said he didn’t know why the school didn’t re-hire him.
Kevin Shibley, the Pasco County assistant superintendent who previously served as employee relations director, said he sympathizes with the plaintiffs’ concerns, but that he doesn’t see an alternative way for the bonus system to work.
“The program was designed to be self-sufficient,” he said. “At the end of the day, the (tax) contributions have to be made. There was no separate pot of funds set aside to pay the costs. … I just don’t know where else the funds would have come from.”
Rene Flowers, chairwoman of the Pinellas County School Board, said she anticipates for more teachers around the state to join the lawsuit.
“The state should have done its due diligence,” she said. “You have people excited only to find out there’s a tax issue.”