BROOKSVILLE — Teachers and Hernando County School Board negotiators are nearing an agreement on a new contract, with a significantly smaller raise than the one proposed by the district last summer.
But considering the gloomy economic outlook, there are few complaints on the teachers' side.
"We agree pretty much in principle," said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association union. "What both sides are agreeing on is we want to keep people employed."
Under the district's latest offer, teachers would see a 2.39 percent salary increase, down from the 3.5 percent raise offered by the district in August. Under both scenarios, teachers would also receive a 1.5 percent boost to pay for increases in health care costs.
What's changed? Since that first offer, the state has already warned of a 2 percent funding cut in response to plunging tax revenues, said finance director Deborah Bruggink. State officials are now saying that reduction might be closer to 4 percent.
Those cuts would be in addition to the potential loss of per-student funding due to this year's enrollment decline in Hernando County, from last year's 23,069 students to just 22,676 this month, Bruggink said.
If the district were to grant teachers an overly generous raise now, it might be forced to lay off staff later to cover a budget shortfall, both sides agreed.
Under the latest proposal, the district's reserve fund would drop to $1.8-million or 1.2 percent of general fund revenues, Bruggink said. The state recommends a reserve of at least 2.5 percent.
The district must also reduce its spending by $3.6-million in anticipation of the 4 percent state funding cut, she said.
Contract talks now are focusing on whether teachers can add to their raise if the state's funding cuts prove to be less severe than anticipated, Vitalo said. Negotiations are set to continue on Nov. 6.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.