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Pinellas teachers tie furloughs to pay hikes

Leaders of the Pinellas teachers union said they will agree to a one-day furlough and help the district save $2.4 million.

But only if the district agrees to seniority-based raises, called "step increases," an average of $300 per teacher.

Total cost: $6 million.

In the end, union officials say, most teachers' paychecks would remain roughly the same. Any increase would help offset the $290 teachers won't get this year from a voter-approved salary supplement due to a projected decline in property taxes.

"They lost the referendum money, but they're … recapturing the money by getting their step increase," said Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, on Monday.

He added, "We're reluctant to say we'll take a leave without pay. But as long as we're not losing anything in the long run, we think this is sellable to the union membership."

Selling it to the district is another matter.

"With the financial situation like it is now, the step increase is probably completely out of the question," said associate superintendent Ron Stone, the district's lead negotiator.

Union officials say the district could pay for the step increases using the $2.4 million it would save from the furloughs and another $4 million it will save by replacing higher-paid retiring employees with lower-paid ones.

But that $4 million already has been budgeted for other things, Stone said.

District and union officials have been meeting for months to hammer out the salary portion of the teachers' contract.

The union's proposal comes as the district prepares on Wednesday to begin deducting money from the paychecks of 11.5- and 12-month teachers to make up for the reduced salary supplement.

If approved, the step increase would be incorporated into teachers' salary schedule, and the adjusted amount would be the point upon which future raises would be built.

Stone said the district would not provide step increases to teachers without doing so for its other employees, including bus drivers and secretaries. That would cost about $9 million at a time when the district is facing a $4 million shortfall, he said.

That shortfall could grow if the School Board does not continue to support a quarter-mill tax levy, expected to yield $14 million to $16 million, Stone said. The board gave it initial approval earlier this month.

Pinellas teachers tie furloughs to pay hikes 06/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009 11:57pm]
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