Teachers union, Hillsborough district make headway in talks
Note: See update at the end of this post.
Hillsborough teachers who are due for a raise will get a full year, not a half year's increase. Classroom aides won't get retroactive raises, but their pay will increase by three steps, or roughly 6 percent -- and they'll each get a $100 bonus.
That's the framework of a pay deal under discussion by the district and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, and at the close of Friday's bargaining session the two sides were closer than they have been in months.
"While we're not in agreement, we're talking. That's good," said union executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins.
Timing is a big issue, as the bargaining unit represents roughly 20,000 workers and the ratification process can be cumbersome. Both sides want to reach a deal before the winter holidays. Separately, the Hillsborough School Employees Federation -- which represents bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other blue-collar employees -- has a tentative agreement that the School Board will discuss at a special session on Thursday.
The last board meeting of the calendar year is on Dec. 15. And while usually the union ratifies a contract before the School Board votes on it, Baxter-Jenkins suggested Friday that they might want to reverse the order to speed things up.
Nearly all the district's teachers are on a new pay plan that was negotiated during the years of the Bill and Melinda Gates grant, which funded a system called Empowering Effective Teachers. That set-up put teachers on three-year pay bands, giving them a $4,000 raise in the third year. In addition, subject to state law, teachers who receive the highest evaluations get performance bonuses. Last year the $2,000 and $3,000 bonuses amounted to nearly $13 million.
In the past six months, however, the board and incoming Superintendent Jeff Eakins have wrestled with a budget imbalance that was depleting the reserve account and threatening the district's credit. Early on, Eakins identified the new pay plan as a big part of the problem, accounting for $78 million in higher payroll costs, when the bonuses are included. Union leaders, for their part, say the teachers deserve every cent and then some, and that the district is wasting plenty of money on other expenditures, including consulting contracts.
Entering negotiations this year, the teachers wanted all pay rates to increase by $1,000.
They're no longer asking for that.
Other issues -- such as whether special education teachers should get a signing bonus, and whether there should be extra compensation for jobs that require a Masters degree -- remain under discussion.
The biggest sticking point was whether the scheduled pay raises would be retroactive. Baxter-Jenkins said that issue was "non-negotiable," and doing away with retroactivity created an incentive for the district to pace the negotiations slowly. She also complained that the district was pitting classroom teachers against the lower-paid aides.
In the end, however, only one group -- the teachers -- was offered raises retroactive to July 1, the start of the budget year.
There's also a very good chance that performance bonuses will shrink below the original $2,000 and $3,000. The district is talking about a $10 million "bucket" of money for the bonuses. It is too early to say how many teachers will qualify, as the calculation includes Florida Standards Assessment scores that are not yet in. But no one argued that logical conclusion. What's more, now that Empowering Effective Teachers is undergoing a dramatic transformation, union and district leaders are bracing for a larger percentage of teachers rated highly effective -- meaning that, using a bucket approach, the bonuses will be even smaller.
Unlike previous sessions, Friday's gathering was relatively cordial. Baxter-Jenkins used the phrase "shell game" at one point to describe the budget. But she didn't ask the district delegation to leave and she didn't accuse them of feeling comfortable consigning employees to poverty.
Human Resources director Mark West at one point implored the union to "hold hands with the district" during these difficult financial times.
The two sides will meet again on Tuesday.
Update: On its Twitter and Facebook accounts, the union said it will continue to push for retroactive pay raises for the support workers. Sample quotes: "While we are happy regarding movement on retroactivity for teachers, we are not accepting the current district position on no retroactivity for ESP... It is unfortunate that HSEF settled as they did. We are always stronger together and retroactivity is not something to be sacrificed in our opinion."