Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Editorials

Invest in Pinellas teachers

For decades, teachers in Pinellas County public schools made reasonable but not eye-catching salaries and enjoyed good benefits. Now teachers' salaries aren't keeping pace with inflation and the benefits are shrinking. That raises serious questions about how to attract good teachers at a time when public education desperately needs them. As the Pinellas County School Board negotiates a new contract amid more budget-cutting, finding a way to pay teachers more should be a priority. Voters also should do their part by renewing the half-mil property tax for schools in November.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Rebecca Catalanello detailed last week, the average salary for a Pinellas County school teacher has decreased in the past five years despite county taxpayers' willingness to chip in more. Once one of the best-paying districts in the state, Pinellas is now 17th. Part of the reason for the slowly eroding salaries is dwindling investment by the Florida Legislature, which has refused to consider new revenue streams — such as taxing Internet sales. Lower property values have eroded the impact of the local option half-mil tax that Pinellas voters approved in 2004 to enhance schools, including teachers' salaries. The 2002 voter-approved class-size amendment, pushed by the state teachers union, also has limited school districts' flexibility to deal with diminished resources.

Pinellas has a unique issue compared to nearly all other major counties competing for state money. Its enrollment is shrinking, along with its share of the state revenue pie. All of these factors mean that even amid significant cuts elsewhere in the school district's budget, the average Pinellas teacher's paycheck in 2011-12 was $37,226, or $88 less than a year ago and $74 less than in 2007-08.

Even those numbers don't portray the real fiscal impact for individual teachers. All across the state, government workers who are members of the Florida Retirement System were required to contribute 3 percent of their salary to their pensions for the first time this fiscal year. The 2011 law is being challenged before the Florida Supreme Court, but the state continued to collect the money. And now Pinellas school officials have signaled they expect teachers to contribute dramatically more for health insurance next year as the district, like many employers, struggles to maintain coverage.

The trick for Pinellas administrators and the School Board will be to balance those pressures against the reality that retaining and attracting strong teachers is what matters most when it comes to investing wisely in public education. Union officials also need to be flexible if they expect voters to renew the optional property tax in November. Few middle class voters will consider it unreasonable to reduce teachers benefits to better match those found in the private sector — such as contributing to a retirement plan or paying a bigger share of health benefits. But they also will understand that shifting such costs onto workers should come with a plan to pay salaries more commensurate with the private sector.

For all the furor over the status of public education, including standardized testing, the biggest variable schools can control is hiring good teachers for the classroom. Pinellas needs to invest in teachers, not just for today's children but for tomorrow's community.

Comments
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18