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Pinellas teachers, district settle contract after 8 months of talks

A ratification vote is scheduled to take place next week.
Pinellas school district associate superintendent Paula Texel, center, signs a tentative contract agreement with the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association after a tense final round of negotiations on March 22, 2022. District staff attorney Laurie Dart and chief finance officer Kevin Smith joined in the bargaining session.
Pinellas school district associate superintendent Paula Texel, center, signs a tentative contract agreement with the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association after a tense final round of negotiations on March 22, 2022. District staff attorney Laurie Dart and chief finance officer Kevin Smith joined in the bargaining session. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Mar. 23|Updated Mar. 23

LARGO — Representatives for the Pinellas County school district and the teachers union met Tuesday expecting to conclude eight months of contract talks with a long-sought agreement.

It almost didn’t happen.

The sides got bogged down in the final details about which teachers would qualify for an added 15 hours of paid planning time, leading district officials to question whether the discussions would need to continue another day.

Related: Pinellas County teachers expect contract settlement this week

After nearly three hours, though, the two bargaining teams reached a tentative deal that gives teachers an average raise of 3.25 percent, boosting the district’s base teacher salary to $48,675. Teachers on the “grandfathered” salary schedule would see an increase of $1,639.

The agreement also provides a variety of changes to language relating to working conditions that Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi said her members had requested.

“We got a lot of important language that was very responsive to the bargaining survey we sent out last year,” Velardi said.

Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi, center, and executive director Lindsey Blankenbaker, right, review a tentative 2021-22 contract agreement after negotiations on March 22, 2022.
Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi, center, and executive director Lindsey Blankenbaker, right, review a tentative 2021-22 contract agreement after negotiations on March 22, 2022. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]

The eight months of negotiations marked the longest time it had taken for the sides to conclude talks for the yearly contract, officials said. Now they plan to speed the agreement toward approval by teachers and the School Board.

The district has permission from the state employee relations commission to conduct an electronic approval vote until the end of March 31. Afterward, it would have to use paper ballots.

Facing that deadline, the union is targeting its ratification effort to begin as early as Monday, no later than Tuesday, with three days for teachers to cast their votes.

If the teachers okay the deal, it would go to the School Board on April 12.

“We’re just really looking forward to getting our teachers their raises and retro pay,” said associate superintendent Paula Texel, who led the district bargaining team. “I think this agreement is a good one and again recognizes our teachers for the good work that they do.”

Velardi said she remained disappointed that the administration would not budge on the union’s request to give veteran teachers extra money for their years of service. District officials said a “longevity supplement” was not legal.

Related: Tensions high as Pinellas teachers, district spar over money

During this spring’s legislative session, lawmakers attempted to clarify that districts could pay such supplements, as long as they followed the state’s overall salary requirements. Velardi said she expected to renew the request next year.

In related action, the School Board on Tuesday approved a new contract for school support personnel, including a 3.25 percent raise. Employees should see the money in their April 1 paychecks.

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