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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A race to pay the teachers



TAMPA - The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers have reached a tentative pay deal that rewards long-serving teachers, who have reached the top of the pay scale, with a $200 bonus.

All teachers would also get cost of living raises of $200, which would be built into the pay scale. The raises are retroactive to July 1. And, for about a third of the teachers, there will be a scheduled $4,000 raise, also retroactive.

To receive a year's credit and advance to those higher pay grades, teachers must be rated at least effective or highly effective on their evaluations.Teaching assistants and other support workers in the schools will see their wages increase by about 6 percent, with starting pay of $10.06 an hour.

The deal would need to be ratified by union members and approved by the School Board in a special session.

The catch: It's not entirely clear if the district can get the retroactive payments into teachers' checks by Dec. 31.

That's important to union leader Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, who described lukewarm feelings about the raises among her members.

"Saying that anybody is excited about this, or that they think this is a fair agreement, I would be lying," Baxter-Jenkins said, midway through a session Monday that lasted more than three hours. "But people would like to get paid this year."

District leaders are confident they can arrange the higher pay -- which some teachers describe derisively as a $1-a-day raise -- to begin either Dec. 9 or 23. Already, the district is preparing to pay teachers their state-mandated performance bonuses and, for some, an additional bonus for working at high-poverty schools.

But district leaders said at first that they would have to scramble to pay the retroactive money by Jan. 20. "We really are at a time crunch now," employee relations manager Mark West said.

After a private meeting and calls to district headquarters, West and his team said they could try to meet a Jan. 6 deadline. More phone calls followed.

By the end of the day, West said Superintendent Jeff Eakins is committed to doing all he can to get the teachers their money before the end of December. "The superintendent has committed to put all our resources on this," West said.

Still, there was no guarantee and West plans to have a follow-up conversation with Baxter-Jenkins.

It has been a tense five months for the bargaining teams, who began the process in early May with the hope of reaching an agreement by the beginning of the school year.

But talks were stalled as the district worked on what officials are calling a "redeployment" plan that affects resource teachers, subject coaches and even some assistant principals. These and other educators are being tapped to fill 200 existing vacancies in the classrooms. A hiring freeze has been in effect since Oct. 11 as district leaders try to cut costs by shrinking the workforce.

At Monday's bargaining session, Baxter-Jenkins asked district leaders to consider some adjustments and concessions that will boost morale without draining the budget.

For example: Teachers want a prompt response when their children apply for choice or magnet programs.

"It costs us nothing. It takes stress off parents. Why wouldn't we try to fix that?" Baxter-Jenkins asked.

District leaders said that in an effort to follow a new state law, the choice office is waiting until after it makes sure there is enough room in the schools for children in the neighborhood.

The two sides agreed to have follow-up talks on that issue.

[Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2016 7:45pm]


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