Friday, August 17, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Little savings in Hillsborough deal with teachers union

The tentative agreement announced Wednesday between the Hillsborough County School District and the teachers union has enough to leave both sides happy. For the district, the deal shaves millions of dollars from a pay plan that was the basis of negotiations. For teachers, the deal is rich and back-loaded enough to preserve their clout in future salary talks. Both sides have also brought a protracted and divisive episode to an end just as the district ponders the idea of asking voters for more money. Whether itís enough to fundamentally contribute to a brighter financial future for the district is another matter.

The sticking point to the deal was an existing pay plan that virtually guaranteed qualified teachers $4,000 raises every three years. The district held that its continuing struggle to balance the budget meant it could not afford the raises, and it sought a range of concessions that would lower the costs. That was the right strategy considering that salaries account for 81 percent of all the districtís spending, but the district did not win major concessions and the pay package would remain largely in place.

Under the proposed agreement announced Wednesday, about two-thirds of the districtís 15,000 teachers would receive $4,000 raises to take effect in October, rather than the normal start date of July. Experienced teachers at the top of the salary scale would receive a one-time payment of up to 2 percent of their pay. Teacherís aides would receive increases of 6.25 percent, plus a one-time bonus of $150. The district would still pay the full cost of an employeeís health insurance premium, and would offer employees discounted rates on its after-school child care. The district would also stop paying performance bonuses to some employees who receive similar payments under a state-awarded program.

District officials said they have not estimated the total cost of the package, but compared to earlier projections it could save at least several million dollars up front. This is a modest cut for teachers, which partly reflects how local districts are forced to fill the gap because the Legislature fails to adequately fund public education. But it also speaks to how this district has been overly generous with the union in good times and bad. With the district facing $1 billion in debt from school construction, another $1 billion in deferred maintenance and more than $1 billion more in new school needs in the coming years, this was an opportunity for both sides to find greater savings for the sake of the bigger picture.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins has made headway in reducing staff levels, which a consultant noted last year were far higher than in peer districts across the state. By next year, the districtís employment count should stand at 24,355, down from 26,569 in 2015. That will be a significant help in reducing the districtís huge legacy costs. Eakins has also saved money by scrubbing contracts and taking other cost-cutting steps, which is essential for this agency to be viewed as more efficient in the public eye.

That image ó and the support of teachers ó will be critical if the district seeks to pursue a local referendum to increase revenue by raising the sales tax or property tax. School officials are exploring options, and the School Board is expected to more fully examine the idea later this year. Larger, urban districts, especially, face serious problems from the lack of state funding. Thatís why every dollar committed at the local level needs to count. And itís not entirely clear this district and the union are making a convincing case to Hillsborough voters.

Comments
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote ó or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote ó or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didnít bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump ó 27.6 percent ó or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last monthís deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18
Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Itís time to re-establish a permanent home for the state appeals court that serves the Tampa Bay region.It makes sense to put it in Tampa, the same as it made sense 30 years ago when the courtís operations began moving piece by piece up Interstate 4 ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Editorial: A big first step toward improving transportation in Hillsborough

Editorial: A big first step toward improving transportation in Hillsborough

The Hillsborough County transit referendum that has made the November ballot is significantly stronger than two efforts that failed to reach the end zone in the past decade. The one-cent sales surtax would generate enough money to meaningfully improv...
Published: 08/09/18
Editorial: Bondi should stop fighting smokable medicial marijuana

Editorial: Bondi should stop fighting smokable medicial marijuana

The fight for medical marijuana in Florida should have ended with the resounding 2016 vote authorizing it in the state Constitution. Instead, the battle for access drags on, with Attorney General Pam Bondi waging the latest round in a lengthy legal b...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Editorial: Warning signs of a mental health crisis in Florida

Editorial: Warning signs of a mental health crisis in Florida

They reach from South Florida to Tampa, from a high school to a college campus, from troubled kids to troubled parents. But there is a common thread connecting these tragedies: Florida has a mental health crisis. Addressing it would require spending ...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Editorial: Time to pursue or sink ferry to MacDill

Editorial: Time to pursue or sink ferry to MacDill

A proposal to use local money to ferry workers to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa always has been a questionable idea. The loss of nearly $5 million in federal money toward the project makes it all the more suspect. Itís time the ferry supporters off...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18
Blood on the streets of Chicago

Blood on the streets of Chicago

A hot summer weekend, when Chicago should be at its most livable, brings an undercurrent of dread and horror to this city. Summer is block party season, beach season, baseball season. But in some neighborhoods, summer is killing season ó when armed g...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/10/18