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Teachers' raise could pay other costs

Removing a roadblock that hampers the earning power of 132 Citrus teachers will cost the school system nearly $1-million, the teachers union learned Thursday.

According to administrators, the Citrus County Education Association, using a fixed pool of money, must try to help those teachers and still provide pay raises for the district's nearly 1,200 teachers.

On Thursday, the teachers union and administrators met again at the bargaining table. The administrative team answered financial questions that teachers had posed in an earlier session.

Administrators have offered a pay raise package of $1.7-million for teachers, including benefits. On Thursday, chief administration negotiator Ed Murphy said he told the union that amount would have to cover whatever monetary benefits teachers want this year.

That includes correction of what's known as the five-year cap. Several years ago in Citrus, the district and the union decided to save money by only crediting, for salary purposes, up to five years of experience teachers gained working in other districts or working in Citrus before they took time off. For some teachers, that cap has meant salaries $10,000 or more below what they would receive if credited for full experience.

Because of state laws taking effect in January, all teachers hired after that date must get full credit for all of their years of experience.

The administration and the teachers union both want to compensate current teachers who are making less because of the five-year cap, with the goal of bringing them on par with newly hired teachers. The high price tag of fixing the problem could mean that the union opts to phase in the fix for those caught by the cap. To give back one year of experience in the coming year would cost $106,292 and giving back three years would cost $353,569, Murphy said.

Any increase in the administration's contribution for teachers' health insurance also would be subtracted from the $1.7-million pool, Murphy told the union. Health insurance premiums for this year rose by $30 for a single person. Teachers pay $80 a month for coverage, with the district picking up another $120 of the premium cost. If the district absorbed the entire premium hike, that would result in a $365,000 subtraction from the raise pool.

"We told them we didn't expect those other expenditures to come out of the salary offer. The salary offer we didn't feel was enough anyway," said Pat Allen, chief negotiator for the teachers.

But Murphy said his team doesn't know where it might find extra dollars for those expenses. "We don't know where those little pockets of money are," he said.

"We'll help them find the money," Allen said.

The union has asked for a review by their state organization of the district's budget in hopes of finding other available money for raises and benefits.

Murphy repeated to union members that the administration would like to see $1,000 pay raises at the beginning teacher level. Those teachers now earn $26,400.

Teachers have countered with a proposal to offer $2,000 raises to all except the most senior teachers, who would receive pay increases of $2,077. Teachers still back their proposal, which would cost nearly twice the $1.7-million administrators have offered.

The teams plan to return to negotiations in early December.