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Hernando teachers, staff agree to scaled-back raises

BROOKSVILLE — Teachers and staff have reached tentative agreements on a new contract with the Hernando County School Board, officials said Friday.

Teachers represented by the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association would see a 2.39 percent average salary increase in their current contract, plus a 1.5 percent boost for health care premium increases, said business services director Heather Martin.

Nonteaching staff represented by the Hernando United School Workers union would get a comparable average increase of 2.37 percent, plus the same health care boost, she said.

Those raises are a step down from the 3.5 percent the district offered in August. But teachers union officials seemed happy to get them, given the economic downturn and the prospect of deep state funding cuts.

"We can't match the superintendent's 5.5 percent," said HCTA president Joe Vitalo, referring to the raise Wayne Alexander won last spring. "(But) the district is putting out $2.1-million in salaries and benefits for us. Additionally, they dropped the reserve (fund) down to an unprecedented 1.2 percent."

The agreements must still be ratified by union members and the School Board, with final adoption of the new contract scheduled for Dec. 9.

There's some risk in spending part of the 2.5 percent of operating funds the state recommends districts set aside for emergencies. The district has also cut spending plans in anticipation of up to 4 percent in state cuts over the next three months, and would have to cut program or staff costs if those cuts are more severe than expected.

But teachers and staff are facing risks, too, and need all the help they can get, Martin said. "Because of the bad economic times we're in, we want to make sure our employees get a raise if we can possibly do it."

The School Board dropped a demand that teachers attend two additional, unpaid staff meetings per month, while the union dropped requests for additional supplemental pay.

And the board agreed to a single sentence in the contract requiring teachers to dress appropriately and professionally for their job assignment, abandoning its earlier call for a more detailed teacher dress code.

The new contract would raise the starting salary for a beginning teacher to $35,000, up from $30,000 in 2006, helping Hernando compete for teachers with higher-paying counties to the south.

"Citrus County (pays) $33,800, so we're very happy about the $35,000," Martin said.

Teachers union negotiators sought to maximize take-home pay starting in January, rather than seeking retroactive pay for months worked so far this year.

"With people living paycheck to paycheck, we wanted to increase that component more than anything else," Vitalo said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando teachers, staff agree to scaled-back raises 11/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 10, 2008 1:24pm]
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