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Following the Money in Hillsborough: Teachers' leader speaks out

As we wait for Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins' analysis of teacher pay, and how changes in the system might have affected the district's fund balance, Gradebook spoke with Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, to get her perspective.

"I would keep in mind a couple things," she said. "You have a number of unfunded mandates coming from Tallahassee."

These include testing requirements that do not come with adequate funding to buy the computers students need to take the tests, she said. Requiring some schools to stay open an hour longer also costs districts money.

"That takes energy," she said. "That takes staff. That takes transportation. Again, they do it, they mandate it, they put no money toward it. These are just two good examples where the district had to respond and provide services and meet the law. Those are things that hit the budget and those can be things that cause you to dip into your reserves."

Baxter-Jenkins pointed out that in 2011, when the fund had $361 million, part of that money came from federal stimulus funds to get the nation through the recession. "So it's not a valid balance to compare against."

Remember, she said, that "the entire purpose of what we've done is to value teachers and to pay them a better salary. I want to note for the record, look at the salary scale. There is no teacher who is making a fortune. I don't think it's out of line and, in fact, Florida teachers are still paid pretty poorly compared to teachers in other places. Given what we have to work with in a state that doesn't adequately fund education, I am very proud of the scale we bargained, which values our new teachers, as well as our veteran teachers."

As Eakins and his staff move forward, she urged them to consider other expenditures that are driving up spending. Managerial appointments and positions deserve a hard look. They might be well intended, she said, but they also cost money.

"Budget crises are always a convenient thing while you're in the context of [contract] negotiation," she said.

"There's a lot of things we can look at in a $3 billion budget where teachers do not have to be scapegoated in any way. Any way in which you want to make them the cause of the problem is not good for our schools and is not good for our district.

"Look anywhere, read the New York Times recently. We're facing a nationwide teacher shortage. So making teachers or their salary the problem is not the way to go."

Earlier reports about the budget issue, including reports from the bond rating agencies and last week's statement from former superintendent MaryEllen Elia, are here and here.

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