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Teacher pay raises close to approval

Citrus teachers and the school district reached a tentative pay increase agreement Tuesday, with proposed raises ranging from $1,200 to $1,700.

The tentative agreement, reached much earlier in the negotiating process than usual, isn't a total contract settlement. Still, union and administration leaders were hopeful that the remaining contract items could be resolved in a meeting scheduled for Monday.

Once the total package is approved, it will be sent for ratification first by the teachers and then the School Board. For the first time in several years, that could mean that the district's 1,119 teachers would have their retroactive raise money in their pockets by the Christmas break.

Tuesday's quick agreement was largely fueled by an additional $461,000 made available for pay increases over the administration's first offer in mid October.

Two weeks ago, the administration offered teachers pay raises of $1,000 across the board _ a salary package without benefits that would cost the district approximately $1.12-million.

On Tuesday, the Citrus County Education Association brought its first formal counterproposal to the table. It sought pay raises of $1,200 for beginning teachers and teachers in their fourth through 15th year, $1,400 raises for those in their second and third years and $1,700 for teachers who have already reached the top of the scale at 16 or more years.

Under the union's proposal, the beginning salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree would have increased to $28,800, and the teachers at the top of the scale would have earned $45,323.

The union's plan would cost the district $1.58-million in salary increases alone. The union argued there was sufficient money in the budget to fund the difference because of the district's history of "overbudgeting and underspending," union president Terry Flaherty told the administration team.

Union officials had asked their state organization to study several years worth of district budgets last year to prove budget padding. This year, local union officials used the same formula to again analyze how much padding was built into the spending plan.

In their presentation to the administration team Tuesday morning, Flaherty said the union's budget analysis found a projected surplus of $5.86-million out of the district's $97-million general fund budget. Because of surplus money in the budget, Flaherty told the administrators that the union thinks its pay proposal is affordable without hurting other spending in the district.

During Tuesday's session, Flaherty asked school district finance director Sam Hurst if the union's study was accurate. Hurst said he hadn't had time to study it in detail, but his thought was that "it's pretty accurate."

After a private caucus, administrators returned to the table saying that they were interested in the union's pay proposal but chief administration negotiator Ed Murphy suggested just a couple of changes.

He suggested that the increase for beginning teachers be $1,400 rather than $1,200, bringing the district's starting salary to $29,000. The second- and third-year teachers would get $1,300 rather than the $1,400 suggested by the union. And all other pay raises would match the union's proposal with $1,200 at years four through 15 and $1,700 for 16 year and above teachers.

The higher starting salary would help the district draw teachers to Citrus County benefiting both the administration and the union, Murphy said.

In addition to the pay raises, Murphy also repeated the district's previous offer of the district contributing another $20 per month to the cost teachers pay toward health insurance premiums, bringing the total to $170.

Also, he said his team was interested in small increases in the amount teachers receive for supervising extracurricular activities including athletic coaches and club sponsors.

After lunch, the teachers agreed to the pay package proposed by the administration and sought higher supplements. Administrators balked, saying they couldn't afford both, and finally the two sides settled on slight increases of between $50 and $88 for each supplemental position held by a teacher, which will now be listed in the contract as a dollar amount rather than a percentage.

Negotiations with the support workers represented by the CCEA are continuing and the Teamsters Union, which represents the district's blue collar workers have not yet had their first bargaining session.

_ Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendtsptimes.com.

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