Saturday, August 18, 2018
Education

Hillsborough school district and teachers reach tentative deal on pay

TAMPA — After more than a year of often tense negotiations and teacher protests, the Hillsborough County School District and the teachers union announced today they have reached a tentative agreement on pay and benefits.

The two sides characterized the deal as a compromise, made possible by the district’s ability to cut expenses, largely by phasing out 800 jobs.

Announcing the deal at a news conference in the union hall Wednesday, superintendent Jeff Eakins said, "I couldn’t be more proud of our team and, knowing some of the constraints we were working under, that we wanted to do the very best we could for our employees."

The agreement would give teachers most of the money they expected in scheduled raises. And those with children would receive a 25 percent discount on after-school day care.

But the teachers would lose performance bonuses, with the district using the state’s existing Best and Brightest program to take their place — a benefit they already receive. The district would adjust the pay of those teachers who do not qualify for the state program.

RELATED: Eakins ‘exploring’ a referendum to help fund Hillsborough schools. ‘We have some clear needs’

Experienced teachers at the top of the pay scale would receive a one-time payment of up to 2 percent of their salary.

Teacher aides and other support staff would receive pay increases of 6.25 percent, plus a one-time bonus of $150.

The next step is a ratification vote by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, which bargains on behalf of roughly 19,000 employees, including 15,500 teachers.

The deal would give teachers who were due for $4,000 raises in the school year that just ended the increase they expected, and about two-thirds of their back pay. It also would give the raises to those expecting them in the coming school year. The raises are staggered because of a 2013 agreement that holds pay frozen for three years, then increases it if the teacher earns a high enough performance rating.

But, under the compromise, the raises for these two groups — totaling about 7,000 teachers — would take effect in October of their respective years, not when the fiscal year begins in July. The delay would save the district millions of dollars.

Further negotiations would prioritize the $4,000 raises for the third group of teachers who expect them in the 2019-20 school year. And the two sides will consider renegotiating the pay plan, which, they learned through this year’s conflict, sets the stage for profound disappointment in a tight budget year such as this one.

The deal, while not what the teachers wanted, is far more generous than the $1.8 million — or $92 per employee — that the district offered late last year, following months of offering nothing. The two sides entered impasse shortly afterwards.

During two days of hearings in April, the district said its credit was so fragile that it would be irresponsible to give the teachers $17 million in raises. The union argued that the district’s credit was not fragile, that the raises added up to only $14.5 million, and that the district acted in bad faith by failing to include the raises when preparing its budget.

On Wednesday, both sides commended one another and called on the public to advocate for more school funding.

This year’s allocation from the state "clearly is not enough for our kids and our schools," said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

"I think our goal now is to move forward and make sure we elect people who are going to support public education and properly fund it."

Among other things, reaching an agreement with the union will make it easier for Eakins and the School Board to pursue a referendum to raise local taxes for the schools.

Other neighboring districts already benefit from special school taxes, and are able to pay higher salaries to their teachers.

Experts say such a campaign would have slim chances without teacher support.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.

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