Hillsborough schools take a hard line on teacher pay, citing mounting expenses

Is the money there, or is it spoken for? The teachers union and the district disagree.
Hillsborough County teachers and administrators attend a union bargaining session on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
Hillsborough County teachers and administrators attend a union bargaining session on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]
Published Aug. 5, 2022|Updated Aug. 5, 2022

Are Hillsborough teachers getting a raw deal if they accept lump-sum payments instead of the same amount of money in a conventional raise?

Their union says they are. They say the supplements make it hard for them to plan and budget. They see this practice, which also happened in 2021-22, as a sign of disrespect.

District leaders say they are taking the most responsible approach, given their financial situation. They say that, under their proposal, teachers would actually see some of the money before they have worked to earn it.

“We’re really not that far apart,” employee relations manager Danielle Shotwell said at the start of Thursday’s bargaining session. “We’re far apart on one piece of this, in my opinion. That is, how it’s being paid.”

A week ago the union declared an impasse, and both sides are preparing their arguments in the event that it reaches the stage of formal hearings.

Central to the discussion is how much new money is coming in from the state. According to a district worksheet, state funding will increase by $134 million this year after adjusting for the loss of students to privately managed charter schools.

“And the district can’t find $26 million to pay its employees what they’re owed for the last two years?” union president Rob Kriete said. “I don’t buy it.”

But Romaneir Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, outlined exactly where the new money is going.

An estimated $75 million in state scholarships to private schools knocks the total down to $59 million. It will cost $14.4 million to follow a new state law that pays state workers at least $15 an hour. Contributions to the pension system will increase by $16 million. Utilities cost more. Fuel costs more.

And the funding increase happened because more children are expected as the population swells. Serving these new students will cost another $24 million.

In the end, Johnson said, early projections show a spending deficit of $1.4 million at a time when the state is pressuring Hillsborough to break even or show a surplus.

To avoid another operating deficit, the district wants to treat the teacher payments as a one-time expenditure that it can cover through its reserve of $194 million.

Graham Picklesimer, the union’s executive director, pointed out that charter school projections are sometimes higher than the ultimate enrollment, which means the $63 million that the district expects to lose to charters might end up being closer to $53 million.

There is disagreement as to whether the district is making all the budgetary transfers that it can, by law, from the capital budget to the operating budget. Elsewhere in Florida, Picklesimer said, the transfers are considerably greater.

And there is the issue of employee vacancies and how much money they allow the district to save over the course of the year.

The two sides plan to meet next on Sept. 7.