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String tied to teacher pay plan

The administration wants $1,500 higher starting salaries linked to raises for all teachers.

Most teachers would get raises ranging from $600 to $800 under the pay plan tentatively agreed to by teachers union and district negotiators on Tuesday.

But teachers shouldn't start spending those dollars yet. Superintendent Pete Kelly tied a fairly large string to the raises.

Until he and the teachers find some way to raise starting pay by another $1,500 for next year, Kelly said, the district won't sign the pay package and send it on to ratification by teachers and the School Board.

Kelly's plan has been to agree on pay schedules for both the current school year and the 2000-01 school year by April. After teachers on Tuesday morning picked a salary scale for the current year, which increased starting teacher pay by $800 to $24,000, Kelly let the other shoe drop.

He told the Citrus County Education Association, which bargains for the district's 1,050 teachers, that he wanted to see next year's beginning salary go to $25,500, and he would tie this year's salary scale up until it was clear both teams could reach that benchmark for next year.

Twenty-nine of the state's 67 school districts have starting pay higher than $25,000. Kelly told teachers he wants to have a competitive starting pay to fill open positions.

This year, about 30 teaching positions have not been filled because of the teacher shortage. That shortage has been felt around the state and the nation, but this has been the first year that Citrus has had so much trouble filling spots.

"If we're lagging too far behind this year, it's going to be some awful push to get it up for next year," Kelly warned the teams. "We're going to have to do more for the beginning teacher, or we're going to have no future in Citrus County."

Using a new computer program, administrators ran several different pay proposals for the current year that had been requested by the union. After a short caucus, the CCEA announced that it wanted the plan that would increase pay $800 for beginning teachers and for those at the top of the scale. Others would get $600 increases, except for the most experienced teachers who moved from the 14th to 15th level on the scale. Those teachers already received a large pay jump for experience at the start of the year.

Kelly said he was concerned about the plan the teachers picked because "all we're doing is putting things back like what we've been doing in the past."

He said he wanted to see additional steps added to the scale, for teachers who reach 20 years and 25. But union officials have always balked at that addition, not wanting to lengthen the time it takes a teacher to get to the top of the pay scale.

But Kelly's big fear was that a low starting salary for 2000-01 will compound the problem of filling vacancies. And with recruiting time just around the corner, he was eager to get the next salary schedule worked out and approved.

"If we're not there by next year," he said, "we're going to be hurting to try to get teachers."

The teams are set to meet again next week, and Kelly told them he wanted to see them come up with some salary scale proposals with the $25,500 starting mark. He also told them that they should try to find a scenario that would cost about $1-million, including the cost of benefits.

That is slightly more than the cost of the salary schedule the union wants for the current year. According to the district's figures, the $600 and $800 raises would cost the system about $844,000.

Chief administration negotiator Ed Murphy said keeping the salary proposals realistic was important because "in developing these things, there are consequences on either side."

While teachers might push for large raises next year, that could mean they would find additional students in their classrooms and the teacher aide they had come to rely on would be gone.

"These are the hard things we're going to have to face," Murphy said. "It's a pure question of economics. You can't have both."

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