GazetteXtra Print Article Logo URL:

Henderson: Some basic facts about Hillsborough’s teacher pay imbroglio

By Joe Henderson, Special to the Times
Meaghan Leto, a speech therapist from Twin Lakes Elementary, takes part in a Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association protest outside the school board building last month. The teachers are fighting for proposed salary raises. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

Hillsborough Countyís public school teachers are horn-honking, voice-raising, sign-waving, foot-stomping mad, and I canít blame them. They are paying for a problem they didnít create.

About one-third of the workforce was expecting to receive a $4,000 raise that had been promised, but after some dithering and harrumphing from top district officials, teachers learned the other night they might only get $92 instead.

Merry Christmas, yíall.

They already feel disrespected by lawmakers, officials and generally by people with fancy titles. This didnít help.

Teachers responded with a noisy protest outside the School Board building, described by Tampa Bay Times education reporter Marlene Sokol a "carnival-like affair that included a hamburger stand and dozens of children."

The good news is, teachers can buy a lot of hamburgers with that extra 92 bucks.

I did a little net-surfing to see what else teachers can afford if they accept this offer (which I wouldnít if I was in their shoes).

I saw a Kuerig coffee maker advertised for $92 on Amazon, although teachers should probably rule that out since they also would need those little coffee packs. Thatís a budget-buster.

There was a heart-rate sensor marked down to $71 from the original $89. A teacher might find that handy the next time they look at their pay stub.

Itís not going out on a thin limb to say this situation will not end well. Fingers are already being pointed in both directions and both sides are dug in to positions that are oceans apart.

The board would have been smarter to stick to its "we have no money, so you get no raise" posture instead of offering a $1.8 million bonus pool that immediately was spun by the union as a slap in the face.

The board never said how the pool had to be divided ó remember, only one-third of teachers were in line for the $4,000 raise.

But the union made its point by taking the boardís offer and making it look as Scrooge-like as possible. It divided the figure among all 20,000 district employees, not just those losing out on the pay bump.

Hence, the $92 figure.

All board members can do is point to the districtís dwindling cash reserve and the dire consequences that will follow if it gets worse.

"Our superintendent has had to make some extremely difficult decisions," employee relations manager Mark West said.

West has been tasked with delivering the bad news to teachers about the pay raise. In the interest of transparency, his annual salary is $118,437.

Letís accept a few basic truths about whatís happening, starting with the fact the union should be screaming bloody murder about what is happening.

The union represents teachers, and its leaders should be holding the boardís collective tootsies to the firepit over the promise it made.

Board members can talk until their tongues melt about the financial crisis that has trashed district finances, and the unionís response should be that a promise is a promise.

The problem with that, though, is the board can come back and say okay fine, what if we lay off a bunch of teachers so we can make the numbers work?

Or maybe members say they wonít fix the air conditioning that always breaks down all over the district. Or they wonít repair leaky roofs. Then they could add, if you think itís bad now, wait Ďtil those lovely folks in Tallahassee tell us to manage our budget better instead of asking for more money.

All these things are true, and there is no easy answer.

Teachers are right to feel they are being forced to pay for district mismanagement that goes back to the MaryEllen Elia era.

Hereís something no one can hide from, though. How will they ever believe anything the board tells them in the future?