LARGO — New teachers in Pinellas County could become the highest paid in the Tampa Bay area under a tentative agreement reached late Tuesday that bumps their starting salaries to $40,000.
All of the school district's 7,800 teachers would receive a raise, which works out to 5.6 percent on average.
The Pinellas teachers union accepted the terms after a three-hour meeting with the school district's negotiating team. The raises are expected to take effect soon and would be retroactive to July 1, pending ratification by union members and School Board approval.
The Hillsborough County school system was tops in the region last year, paying its new teachers $37,569 a year, compared with $37,000 a year in Pinellas, $36,420 a year in Pasco County and $35,000 in Hernando County. For the 2013-14 school year, Pasco has a tentative agreement to pay new teachers $37,000. Hillsborough and Hernando are still negotiating raises.
Pinellas School Board Chairwoman Carol Cook said she hoped the change in starting pay would draw the "best and brightest" to the district. "I'm thrilled that we've been able to do that," she said.
Kim Black, president of the teachers union, called the agreement a "fair settlement."
Pinellas received about $18 million from the state this year to pay for teacher raises, as part of a $480 million effort by Gov. Rick Scott to provide a $2,500 across-the-board pay bump to Florida's classroom teachers. The money was subject to local bargaining, so each district has come up with its own plan.
Under the tentative agreement in Pinellas, a first-year teacher earning $37,000 would get a $3,000 raise. A teacher with 10 years' 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.
Bruce Proud, the union's executive director, said negotiators set out to provide teachers with more money earlier in their careers. It took a teacher 10 years to reach $40,000 under the old salary schedule. Under the new one, new teachers can earn $42,000 by their 12th year of teaching instead of their 16th.
Proud acknowledged that the change could cause resentment among teachers who already have invested 10 years in Pinellas.
Teachers nearing the 10-year mark also won't see as much benefit. Teachers entering their eighth year, for instance, would get a $1,260 raise to $40,360. Teachers entering their ninth year, would get a $1,321 raise to $40,723.
Left unresolved was the issue of pay for teachers who work in some after-school programs. The district offered to bump their pay to $20 an hour, up from the current $15 an hour. Black wanted them to be paid their regular hourly rate.
She said the district's proposal for after-school teachers would be a "double slap" to some of the teachers getting the smallest raises this year. The two sides will continue to negotiate the point.
Cook said the district had to consider how it will be affected by state-mandated performance pay in the 2014-15 school year. Some teachers will be eligible for extra money under that system, and the district has to be able to pay for it, she said.
The tentative agreement also includes a 6.47 percent increase in health insurance costs. The district's health care provider originally asked for a 22 percent increase.
In addition, teachers would be paid $20 an hour, instead of $10, to participate in professional development. Trainers would be paid $20 an hour instead of $13.
Staff writer Lisa Gartner contributed to this story. Contact Cara Fitzpatrick at email@example.com or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.