Hillsborough school superintendent pitches a teacher advisory council

Addison Davis said he wants to hear more views. But the teachers union is cool to the idea as pay negotiations continue.
Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis met with teachers in July to discuss reopening plans for the district. Now he wants to establish an advisory council made up of teachers.
Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis met with teachers in July to discuss reopening plans for the district. Now he wants to establish an advisory council made up of teachers. [ Hillsborough County Public Schools ]
Published Oct. 7, 2020|Updated Oct. 7, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis has announced the creation of a teacher advisory council, a move that was met with criticism from the district’s teachers union.

In an email to employees and in remarks at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, Davis, who took over the district’s top job in March, said he wants to meet monthly with two teacher representatives from each grade level.

The topics, he wrote, would be “rigorous and diverse academic experiences, robust extracurricular opportunities, comprehensive student support services, fair and consistent school culture and discipline, authentic platforms for teacher voice and representation, technology, college and career readiness, student code of conduct, and policy.”

Applications to sit on the council for a seven-month commitment are being taken through Oct. 14.

The move comes at a time when teachers are concerned about pay and work conditions.

Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, called Davis’ gesture “a knee jerk reaction” to a recent bargaining session that revealed teachers' dissatisfaction on a number of fronts.

“As the union representing employees, we provide input all the time,” Baxter-Jenkins said. “It’s just that I don’t think they are happy to hear the input we’re providing.”

On Twitter, the union accused Davis of trying “to cherry pick an echo chamber.”

Michael McAuley, Davis’ chief of staff, said, “hands down, I would say that is absolutely not the case.”

McAuley, one of several executives who followed Davis to Hillsborough from his last post in Clay County, said Davis is modeling the teacher council after a similar committee he launched in Clay. That council, he said, included union representatives from several Clay schools. Together, he said, Davis and the teachers were able to examine issues of concern and explore solutions. They also discussed things the district could celebrate.

“In no way, shape or form was this meant to replace the relationship that we have" with union leaders, McAuley said. "That continued in Clay and it will continue here.”

Hillsborough’s district leaders are trying to work out a plan that will comply with a new state law that aims to start teacher pay at $47,500.

Most of the money the state is allocating is off limits to other educational employees who do not have class rosters, such as media specialists and subject area coaches. And the district is trying to reach an agreement with the union that would increase pay for more experienced teachers beyond the minimum.

Additionally, teachers are telling the union they are pressured to give up their planning time and duty-free lunch, and are being asked to simultaneously teach students online and in person. While simultaneous classes are supposed to be voluntary, Baxter-Jenkins said some teachers are doing so because they fear they will lose their jobs in the district’s planned budget cuts.

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The School Board will meet in a closed-door, executive session Thursday to discuss the ongoing negotiations.

In other developments at Tuesday’s School Board meeting:

  • Davis said school leaders are moving closer to locating thousands of students who did not return at the beginning of the school year. That number, which was as high as 20,000 at one point, then dropped to 7,300, is now closer to 3,000, he said.
  • The board agreed to take out a tax anticipation notice, which is a short-term financing instrument it can use in case there is not enough cash in early November to pay operating expenses. Property tax collections might be delayed this year because of the pandemic, and other districts often take such steps as they wait for the money to arrive. Davis and his team, however, say the district’s spending habits are unsound, regardless of the pandemic. Over the next two years they hope to build up the reserves, which are now falling close to the state minimum of three percent of anticipated revenues. The vote enables them to borrow up to $80 million.
  • Sabrina Ruiz was named principal of Mango Elementary. Ruiz, 38, joined the district in 2005 and worked last as an assistant principal at Sulphur Springs K-8 School.