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Pinellas teachers reach tentative agreement on raises, working conditions

“Any time we improve our teachers’ working conditions, we are improving our kids’ learning conditions,” the union president said. “I think the district started to understand that.”

After months of back-and-forth, the Pinellas County’s teachers union tentatively agreed Wednesday to a 2.55 percent pay raise for the district’s 7,000 instructors plus a small bump in salary for new teachers.

The union also made “significant strides” related to better working conditions, said Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Mike Gandolfo.

Under the new terms, reached in a private meeting between Gandolfo and the district’s lead negotiators, teachers will gain more autonomy over lesson planning, be required to attend fewer meetings and receive performance evaluations that are more in-depth.

“What we’ve done in this contract is cut little things that just make teachers’ lives a little, tiny bit easier,” Gandolfo said in an interview. “We’re hoping when you put them together cumulatively, they will add up to a better working environment.”

The terms are contingent on a final vote by all teachers and should be official by Feb. 12, when the School Board could vote to ratify the changes. That will make Pinellas only the second of four districts in the Tampa Bay area to settle salary negotiations with its teachers.

Instructors in Hernando have asked for a 4.25 percent raise compared to the district’s offer of 2.75 percent. Bargaining teams will meet again Monday, where the district is expected to make a new proposal, said union president Vince LaBorante.

Pasco County is still in talks, too, with the district saying its “best and final offer” is a 2 percent raise. But teachers are holding out for 2.5 percent and could wait until March or longer to cash in on raises regardless.

Similar situations are playing out in other Florida districts, like Indian River County, where the teachers union announced this week that negotiations there have arrived at a stalemate. Brevard County’s teachers union said the same in mid-December, calling the school district’s raise offer “laughable,” according to Florida Today.

In Pinellas, the teachers union had held out for months on agreeing to the district’s proposed raise before this week, urging the school district to make changes to improve teachers’ day-to-day working conditions before talking money.

Several weeks of contentious bargaining sessions — some of which ended abruptly when union and district teams couldn’t agree — featured Gandolfo arguing that teaching in Pinellas has become harder in recent years because of added responsibilities piled onto the job over time.

RELATED: ‘They will not break us.’ Pinellas teachers turn down a raise to press for better working conditions.

And the district heard those concerns loud and clear, assistant superintendent and lead negotiator Paula Texel said in an interview Wednesday. It just took time to hash out the details.

Negotiating this year “was a lengthy process,” she said. “But I think it was important to take the time … to go through each one of the (contract articles) and listen to both sides … and make sure our work force has what it needs to do the job they do with our students.”

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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