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Progress slow as Tampa Bay teachers, districts work out contracts

Minimum pay is an issue, along with pay for veteran educators and bonuses.
Representatives from the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and the school district administration keep their social distance as they negotiate second-semester work conditions last December. The sides resumed bargaining for the current contract over the summer, but have made little progress.
Representatives from the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and the school district administration keep their social distance as they negotiate second-semester work conditions last December. The sides resumed bargaining for the current contract over the summer, but have made little progress. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Nov. 6, 2021

More than a year after Gov. Ron DeSantis approved legislation to boost Florida’s minimum teacher pay, Tampa Bay area school districts are still trying to reach that $47,500 baseline.

During annual contract negotiations, teacher and district representatives also are debating ways to get bonuses to faculty members who did not meet the state’s criteria when it authorized $1,000 checks to reward educators’ hard work during the height of the pandemic.

Progress is coming slowly in a process that affects more than 25,000 teachers across Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Negotiations in Hillsborough County began this week. Teachers union President Rob Kriete said the discussion focused on the district’s budget as presented to the state, and no offers were made.

Teachers union President Rob Kriete
Teachers union President Rob Kriete [ Facebook ]

They intend to return to the table on Nov. 15, when Kriete expects to make a pay proposal aiming to get closer to the $47,500 minimum salary while also providing raises to nonclassroom teachers, whom the state has not included in its various pay plans.

In Pasco County, bargaining lately centered on providing $1,000 bonuses from local funds to nonclassroom teachers. They reached a deal Monday, although it did not go as far as the United School Employees of Pasco requested.

The union wanted to include teachers who worked all of 2020-21 then retired, but district officials said retirees were not eligible. The union has submitted a separate proposal for the retirees.

Neither side has submitted a pay proposal, and district lead negotiator Nora Light said “nothing else is in the works at the moment.” The district has not yet reached the state’s targeted $47,500 minimum wage.

The Pinellas County school district has the biggest task ahead of it, as the teachers’ full contract is up for reconsideration. That includes all of the rules of employment, in addition to the economic factors.

Leaders of the bargaining teams have found little agreement over three months of conversations.

“They are coming from the land of ‘no,’ " Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association President Nancy Velardi said of the district.

Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association President Nancy Velardi
Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association President Nancy Velardi [ Courtesy of Nancy Velardi ]

The sides did reach an accord to extend paid sick leave up to 10 days for vaccinated employees who are required to quarantine. That item goes to the School Board for consideration Tuesday, after weeks of back and forth.

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On many other items, the negotiations have yielded little.

One of the key areas Velardi has pushed relates to the state law on teacher pay. It requires higher raises for those on annual contracts than the veterans who still have continuing contracts.

She wants the district to set up a separate “longevity supplement” based on years of service, as a way to keep the increases balanced. Velardi suggested it would help keep long-term educators from resigning or retiring, something the district can ill afford with vacancies across the state going unfilled.

District officials have balked at the proposal.

“A supplement based on tenure with the district for instructional staff on the grandfathered schedule would violate the statutory formula for calculating raises, and the district does not intend to violate the law,” Associate Superintendent Paula Texel said via email.

Associate Superintendent Paula Texel
Associate Superintendent Paula Texel [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Texel added that the district has offered an average raise of 3.25 percent, plus covering the cost of increased health insurance premiums. She said the longevity that the union seeks is built into the district’s pay schedule.

“The union is considering our proposals,” Texel said. “We expressed that an agreement on salaries before the winter break would allow people retiring at year-end to receive their raise and retroactive pay.”

Velardi said she’s operating on the premise that teachers want a contract that isn’t rushed, knowing they will get retroactive pay whenever the deal is done. And she has many other items she said the district can improve upon.

Among those are a request for stronger protections for teachers who are assaulted in class and increased teacher involvement in the selection of new curriculum and related programs. So far, Velardi said, the union has found resistance to its ideas.

Texel said the district has no major issues it is seeking to renegotiate.

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