Will SB 6 lead to teacher pay cuts in Pinellas?
With the financial mandate imposed by SB 6 on top of other budget pressures, Pinellas board member Carol Cook said she can’t rule out that the district might go back on its contract with the teachers union and revisit the small "step" raises it agreed to give teachers in 2010-11.
“Am I willing to say now we would impose a contract? No. But is that off the table? Nothing is off the table," Cook told The Gradebook during a discussion about the financial implications of SB 6. “I’d like to turn over every stone before we do that. But there aren’t many stones left to turn over.”
SB 6 would create a "performance fund," paid for with 5 percent of district, state and federal funds, that would be used to develop new standardized tests and pay some teachers more for squeezing bigger learning gains out of their students. The first hit from the fund (assuming SB passes and is signed into law) is expected to cost Pinellas about $40 million in 2011-12. That’s on top of the $51 million funding “cliff" - created by the absence of stimulus dollars - that the district faces at the end of 2010-11; on top of class-size costs for the final stage of implementation; and on top of the historic budget cuts of the past few years.
With salaries and benefits eating up 80-85 percent of most district budgets - and no additional money coming from the state - some are predicting that districts will have no choice but to cut base salaries before they can begin to fulfill SB 6's performance-pay goals.
Because of declining enrollment, Pinellas has faced longer and steeper budget cuts than many districts in Florida. And because of that and other factors, its options for meeting the financial requirements of SB 6 (which creates a "performance fund," paid for with 5 percent of district, state and federal funds) may be even more limited.
Florida school districts can levy up to 1 mil in additional property taxes with voter approval. But Pinellas voters have already gone halfway there, approving a 4-year, half-mil property tax hike in a 2004 referendum and renewing it in 2008. Asking Pinellas voters to tax themselves again in a bad economy would probably be both futile and politically suicidal.
Then there’s this: The referendum money is used to boost teacher salaries, and to support art and music programs. Can the board really cut teacher pay, or eliminate art and music classes, after voters okayed extra tax money to support those things?
“How many options do we have? I don’t see many at all,” Cook said. “Do we go into transportation? Do we go into textbooks? Do we say oh well with class size, and violate the law and a constitutional amendment?”