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Gov. Scott's idea for $2,500 teacher raise proves elusive

Standing before a crowd at an Orange County middle school last January, Gov. Rick Scott announced his plan to give every classroom teacher in Florida a $2,500 raise. The cost: $480 million, including roughly $69 million for Tampa Bay area teachers.

But seven months later, that sunny proposal now seems clouded as school districts devise pay plans that often veer from the governor's original idea.

Educators have long since abandoned the simple notion of an across-the-board pay bump that Scott once promoted in news conferences across the state. And only recently — with districts immersed in varying stages of contract negotiations — has a clearer picture emerged on how the raises will be distributed throughout the region.

"The problem is, we certainly don't have the governor out there helping to correct the message," said Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco County. "He's like, 'mission accomplished.' He's not really saying that (the $2,500) was pie in the sky."

Asked about the complexity that has overtaken Scott's original proposal, his spokeswoman, Jackie Schutz, said the governor fought hard for the raise.

"He's very excited that teachers across the state will be getting a well-deserved pay raise," she said.

While Scott originally touted raises for teachers, House and Senate leaders made them available for guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, librarians, principals and assistant principals as well. The money also covers charter schools.

In the end, lawmakers left it up to districts to collaborate with local employee bargaining units on how to distribute the increases — and how to treat employees not listed in the legislation.

The pot of money never increased from the initial amount allotted only for classroom teachers, which meant it was no longer possible to give them the promised $2,500, unless districts chipped in more money themselves.

"With each class of person that you entered, what was available for raises went down," said Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association. "It was kind of one of those deals that the $2,500 made a great sound bite, but it was always more complicated."

In Tampa Bay, the Pasco County School District is the closest to figuring out its raises.

After two months of negotiations, district and union leaders reached a tentative agreement last week to give teachers an average salary bump of 4.7 percent, with all teachers getting at least $580 and the longest-tenured teachers receiving a total raise of $2,440. The largest single group of teachers will get a raise of about $2,100, Webb said.

In Hillsborough County, union and district officials have been meeting since June 26 to negotiate contract revisions. The state gave the district roughly $35.5 million for raises.

But Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said calling it a $2,500 raise creates expectations that can't be met.

Scott "did not give $2,500 per person," she said. "He gave $2,500 to a microcosm of the people we represent. Some choices made sense. But some did not."

For example, psychologists are specified but not speech therapy assistants.

"I'm not going to draw ridiculous and unfair lines between the people who help our kids," Baxter-Jenkins said.

The Hillsborough union has committed to raising pay for its educational support personnel as well, a group that includes classroom aides and secretaries. Adding those people will boost the pool of people who will share the money from 15,000 to nearly 20,000.

Baxter-Jenkins said it's too early to calculate specific pay raises, though the union is optimistic. Negotiations are expected to last at least another two weeks.

In Pinellas County, salary talks are expected to draw to a close this week. Under a proposal now on the table, teachers would see a 5.6 percent pay raise on average, with starting teacher salaries increasing to $40,000 a year. That would make Pinellas the highest in the region.

Bruce Proud, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said an effort was made to provide teachers with more money earlier in their careers.

Superintendent Mike Grego said he wanted starting teacher salaries set at $40,000 because it was taking teachers 10 years to get there under the current pay schedule.

A new teacher in Pinellas earning $37,000 would get a $3,000 raise in 2013-14 under the proposal. A teacher with 10 years of experience would get a $1,688 bump, while a teacher with 20 years would get a $3,280 increase. Those numbers don't factor in advanced degrees.

In Hernando County, which got $3.8 million from the state for pay raises, negotiations are still unfolding.

Last week, district and teachers union officials met for the second time, with the union asking for a 5 percent across-the-board raise. That doesn't cover non-instructional employees, such as paraprofessionals, or administrators.

"We think that if we do it this way, we'll spread it out," said Jo Ann Hartge, president of the teachers union. "We'll get everybody the maximum amount that we can with the funding that's available."

The raise would come on top of the district's annual step pay increases, which are built into their contracts.

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter @ danny_valentine.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The State of Florida allotted $480 million this year for teacher raises. A story Monday reported an incorrect amount. Also, the name Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott, was misspelled.

Gov. Scott's idea for $2,500 teacher raise proves elusive 09/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 6:06pm]
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