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Hillsborough schools offer employees bonus to lessen sting of pension contribution

TAMPA — Hillsborough County public school employees might not feel the full sting of a state directive to put 3 percent of their pay into their pension fund.

A tentative agreement between the district and its two unions would provide bonuses to make up for some of the hit.

Most teachers would receive $500 each in November and another $250 in the spring, superintendent MaryEllen Elia told the School Board on Tuesday. Support workers each would receive $400 in November.

New employees and those in the retirement program would not be eligible, said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, a lawyer for the Classroom Teachers Association.

Employees would need to ratify the contracts, which will take about a month, before the payments are finalized.

"It's not going to solve the problem," said School Board member Candy Olson. "But it's the least we can do."

The Hillsborough district has fared better than many others in the bad economy. Years of cost-cutting, including a reorganization of the school bus system, saved tens of millions of dollars, sparing the district the layoffs and furloughs seen in other school systems.

"We have our fiscal house in order," said board member Stacy White. "It makes me very proud that we are able to do this for the teachers. And not just the teachers — the custodians, everybody."

While unusual, Hillsborough's move is not unique.

School employees in St. Lucie County recently got a one-year pay boost that essentially reimburses them for the pension contribution. In Bonita Springs, city employees received a short-term raise, as did workers in Okaloosa County. But as in Hillsborough, these generally are payments for one year only.

A new state law that took effect in July requires about 655,00 government employees — including teachers — to put 3 percent of their salaries toward retirement.

Gov. Rick Scott and legislators argued the change was needed to bring the state pension plan in line with the private sector.

In other board action:

• Administrators of the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers program reported that teachers, by and large, are pleased after the first full year of the new evaluation system.

Between 80 and 90 percent told surveyors their peer evaluators were helpful and their relationships with the evaluators were professional, said Stephanie Woodford, district director of evaluation and compensation.

Seventy of 75 of last year's peer evaluators came back for a second year, Woodford said, and more have been added for a total of 135.

Hillsborough, in landing a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had a head start in moving from a seniority system to a performance-based system to award compensation. Such efforts are now mandated statewide.

Despite a greater differentiation in scores than in the past, project director David Steele said, "our teachers are doing a great job, day-in, day-out."

• Three principals moved into the new role of principal coach as part of a grant-funded Principal Pipeline training program. Christi Buell of Sulphur Springs Elementary, Holly Saia of Shaw Elementary and Laura Zavatkay of Robinson High are now coaches. They will be replaced at their schools and assist the new principals.

• The board approved a three-way partnership with the Tampa Housing Authority and the American Academy, a Utah-based online provider, to serve public housing residents who dropped out of school and want to continue their education.

To qualify for this program, a student must be between 16 and 18 years old, or as old as 22 if he or she was in special education; and live in one of these complexes: Robles Park, North Boulevard Homes, Belmont Heights Estates, Oaks of Riverview Community Center, Gardens at South Bay Apartments or the Arbors.

The Housing Authority will provide Internet access and the American Academy will help with mentoring.

• The board adopted a five-year capital plan that holds construction to a minimum. Only one new elementary school is planned, on district land near Lennard High School in Ruskin.

"That is one of the few areas of the county that is still experiencing growth," said chief facilities officer Cathy Valdes.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3356.

Hillsborough schools offer employees bonus to lessen sting of pension contribution 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 11:25pm]
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