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Pinellas teachers ratify contract, with less support than usual

Union leader cites “overwhelming” anger over the size of raises, with less going to veteran teachers. A School Board vote is set for April 12.
 
Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi, center, and the union’s executive director, Lindsey Blankenbaker, review a tentative 2021-22 contract agreement after negotiations on March 22, 2022.
Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi, center, and the union’s executive director, Lindsey Blankenbaker, review a tentative 2021-22 contract agreement after negotiations on March 22, 2022. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published March 31, 2022|Updated March 31, 2022

Pinellas County teachers are one step closer to getting raises, including pay retroactive to the start of the school year.

With about 57 percent of 7,250 teachers voting, they approved a contract agreement that would provide average raises of 3.25 percent, along with covering increased costs of health insurance and pension contributions.

The sides settled a week ago, after more than eight months of bargaining.

Related: Pinellas teachers, district settle contract after 8 months of talks

Support for the contract was lower than usual for a ratification, with 78 percent voting in favor of the deal. In 2020, for instance, approval surpassed 90 percent. The last time teachers rejected the negotiated deal came in 2015.

Meanwhile, participation in the vote exceeded the usual turnout, which regularly hovers around one-third of teachers.

Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi attributed the result to dissatisfaction with the outcome, which did not provide educators — especially more veteran ones — with the financial support they had sought.

Teachers on the district’s “grandfathered” salary schedule will receive raises of $1,639, while those on annual contracts could see more. The district refused to approve “longevity supplements” to long-term teachers as a way to alleviate the salary compression that has some newer faculty members earning almost the same amount as their more experienced peers.

“The anger some people are feeling is so overwhelming,” Velardi said.

She said her team tried to get the district to budge but had little success.

“We simply got to the point where we had to get the people paid,” Velardi said, noting that if the year ended without a deal, anyone who retired or resigned would not get the raise they deserved. “I certainly did not want to see that happen.”

She said the union will push hard to get more meaningful raises next year as the district receives a multimillion-dollar influx of state and federal funds, in addition to state clarification on longevity supplements.

School Board members said they expected to approve the contract when it comes to them on April 12, paving the way for the back pay to go out in April 22 checks.

They presented the deal as the best they could offer under the circumstances.

“There’s only so much money that the state gives us,” board chairperson Eileen Long said. “When I see the whole picture and why we did it, putting up the insurance is a huge help.”

Board member Laura Hine said she was glad the situation has been resolved, but also lamented that the district could not do more. A 3.25 percent average raise does not help much in times of record inflation, Hine noted.

She sounded hopeful that teachers will get more next go-round, with the added money coming in.

“It’s unfortunate it has taken so much time, because we do highly value our teachers,” Hine said, adding that she intends to push for improvements to working conditions as well.

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