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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Close, but no pay deal for Hillsborough teachers



The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers appeared headed for an agreement Wednesday that would give teachers a $200 cost of living bump, and other scheduled raises for many, by the end of the calendar year.

Then the two sides separated to meet in caucus, and negotiations ended for the day without a resolution. There was no word on when they will meet again.

Teachers said after a previous session more than a month ago that they were insulted by the $200 offer.

But, as time passed and teachers worried about possible transfers to help the district shrink its workforce, the focus moved to the negotiations themselves and the district's slowness to bargain.

When the two sides finally came together, union director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins said her team might be willing to accept the $200 - plus another $50 for teachers in the highest pay grade, who are no longer eligible for seniority raises. But she asked for an assurance that in future years, scheduled raises would kick in on July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

The answer was a flat no. The reason: Revenues are uncertain, and district leaders do not feel confident enough in their budget to make such a guarantee.

The two sides then separated, but not before Baxter-Jenkins and president Jean Clements made a few points about work conditions in the schools. They described meetings teachers must attend during time they are supposed to have for planning, and the uncertainty that comes with waiting to find out of they will have to change jobs.

Recounting descriptions some teachers gave at Tuesday's school board meeting, they described the hardship of a school losing a valued front-office secretary to a job cut, and then seeing another employee quit, rather than doing two people's jobs.

"I do understand that there have been some struggles budgetarily, but I also understand that we have some significant trust issues,"  Baxter-Jenkins said. "Regardless of money, if people hate their jobs, they won't do their best work."

At stake, for nearly a third of the teachers, is more than just $200.

The way the pay plan works for most of the district's roughly 15,000 teachers, there is a $4,000 bump every three years.

In addition, under state law, teachers who score highly enough on their evaluations and student test score calculations are entitled to performance bonuses. And there is bonus money for those who work at the high-poverty Renaissance schools.

The last two sets of bonuses will appear in teachers' checks in late November or early December, district leaders said. But the $4,000 and $200 raises are subject to the ongoing negotiations. 

When it appeared the two sides would agree, there was talk of a speedy union ratification and a specially called School Board meeting, with the goal of having the money -- retroactive to July 1 -- in teachers' checks by the end of December. That's so teachers would not face the tax hit of getting two retroactive checks in one calendar year.

This is the second year in a row that negotiations have dragged on until November or later. Both sides seemed equally frustrated by the delay. "My team doesn't want to be sitting here going through this any more than your team does," said Stephanie Woodford, the district's human resources chief.

Separately, Woodford is working with Baxter-Jenkins on impact bargaining to place dozens of non-classroom teachers whose jobs are being eliminated through a process the district has called "redeployment." The goal is to help these employees find classroom teaching jobs, filling vacancies that exist because of an ongoing hiring freeze.

Baxter-Jenkins estimated the teacher transfers could save the district $50 million. Woodford said she could not confirm that figure. But regardless of the amount, it will help the district reach its goal of saving $130 million to protect its reserve account.

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 8:27pm]


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