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Pinellas County teachers expect contract settlement this week

Raises for Pasco County school teachers, staff still require more bargaining.
Negotiators for the Pinellas County school district and teachers union meet in collective bargaining on Jan. 6, 2021. Their negotiations for 2021-22 could conclude this week.
Negotiators for the Pinellas County school district and teachers union meet in collective bargaining on Jan. 6, 2021. Their negotiations for 2021-22 could conclude this week. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Mar. 21|Updated Mar. 21

Heading toward spring break, leaders of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association held out little hope that they’d soon reach a contract deal with the district administration.

The sides were far apart, particularly on items relating to working conditions, and appeared unable to find time to discuss possible resolutions.

Related: Pinellas, Pasco school districts still have no teacher pay agreements

As everyone returned to work Monday, the outlook had shifted dramatically. Association president Nancy Velardi sent an email to members declaring that the sides expected to reach a complete settlement during a Tuesday afternoon session.

“Fingers crossed that this is the last session and we will be ratifying next week!!” Velardi wrote, reminding members that the meeting will be livestreamed on the PCTA YouTube channel.

The Pasco County school district also remained without a settlement. But on the Friday before spring break, superintendent Kurt Browning sent employees an email saying the district had found money in the budget to pay for a 4 percent across-the-board pay supplement. The amount comes from funds that are available one time only, meaning the supplement would not repeat after this year unless renegotiated.

“The Board and Union will continue to meet in the coming weeks to determine how to distribute these funds,” Browning wrote. “Both parties are committed to working quickly and deliberately to ensure the fairest settlement.”

In Pinellas, Velardi explained in an interview that the sides were able to break through their disagreements at a late-called meeting that lasted about four hours the day before the district closed for break.

“There’s just little tiny tweaks left,” she said. “We just have to go through it with the whole (bargaining) team.”

One remaining item involves the union asking the district to align its teacher discipline procedures with those outlined by the state Department of Education. The district’s is more strict.

The sides have essentially agreed on pay terms that include an average raise of 3.25 percent. Veteran teachers would benefit from getting paid their hourly wage for up to 15 hours of planning time outside the work day. Special education teachers could get up to 30 hours.

The district had offered more paid planning time at the expense of teachers losing what they call “trade days” that allowed them to skip certain trainings. The PCTA received negative feedback on ending the trade days, and did not accept that offer.

Another part of the pending agreement would allow teachers to get fully paid for their unused sick time after 25 years of service, instead of the current 30 years. It also includes several small changes to items that Velardi said had been “driving people crazy on a daily basis,” such as requiring a doctor’s note for every teacher absence.

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“It’s not the greatest deal, because we didn’t get any real help for the veterans,” she said. But “almost every single article got something added in. It’s all small things but it adds up to better working conditions.”

School Board chairperson Eileen Long, a former teacher, said she looked forward to receiving an agreement that did not have to go to a state hearing officer to resolve an impasse.

“I hope that it passes, because teachers are frustrated that they’re not getting the raise” this late into the school year, Long said.

The negotiations are scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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