Two weeks before the return to classes, the Hillsborough County School District is offering its teachers another round of pay supplements instead of conventional raises.
The offer came at a bargaining session Wednesday, and was met with derision.
“Our employees are not having that,” said Rob Kriete, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. “We, quite frankly, will not accept that.”
After years of contract talks that lasted until the winter holidays and sometimes longer, both sides aimed this year to reach a pay agreement before students return on Aug. 10. Another bargaining session is planned on July 28.
The district faces multiple pressures in staffing its schools this year. There are an estimated 700 classroom teacher vacancies, as educators around the nation are leaving the field. The employment website lists 923 positions, some of which are outside the classroom.
District leaders are still working through a financial recovery plan to avoid spending deficits and dangerously low reserves that caused state scrutiny in recent years.
They fear they will lose more students — and the state funding that comes with those students — as the state continues to expand its scholarship program for private schools. According to one forecast, the total impact in Hillsborough could climb from $65 million in 2021-22 to $75 million in the coming year.
Subject to a new state law, the district also must raise its minimum hourly wage to $15.
Concerns about the budget were so great in 2021-22 that district leaders said they could not treat employee pay raises as a recurring expense. Using federal COVID-19 relief dollars, they designed a system instead of pay supplements that were equivalent to what the employees would have received with conventional pay raises.
Employee relations manager Danielle Shotwell on Wednesday proposed a similar plan for this year. By her calculations, 17,041 employees who are represented by the union will receive a total of $26.3 million.
“We have to be fiscally responsible with the budget we have now,” Shotwell said.
Officials are hoping voters will approve a referendum on Aug. 23 that would raise property taxes by $1 per $1,000 of assessed value. The proceeds would fund teacher pay raises and create more positions in the arts and physical education. The tax would also help Hillsborough compete with other surrounding counties, including Pinellas, that already have these local-option taxes.
Separately, as special education staff is in especially high demand, the district announced it is using $7.3 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to provide $2,000 bonuses to teachers, therapists and assistants who work in exceptional student education.
Employees are eligible whether they are new or already employed by the district.