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Pinellas offers teachers a $50,000 starting salary as bargaining continues

The proposal comes as school districts on both sides of Tampa Bay meet with unions.
Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association negotiators Lindsey Blankenbaker, left, Nancy Velardi, center, and Dan Perazzo participate in contract talks with the school district in July. In a session this week, the district proposed paying starting teachers more than $50,000.
Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association negotiators Lindsey Blankenbaker, left, Nancy Velardi, center, and Dan Perazzo participate in contract talks with the school district in July. In a session this week, the district proposed paying starting teachers more than $50,000. [ PINELLAS CLASSROOM TEACHERS ASSOCIATION | YouTube screen grab ]
Published Sep. 7|Updated Sep. 7

In what is becoming a bidding war, the Pinellas County school district is offering to pay its beginning teachers more than $50,000 a year for the first time.

One proposal goes even further, offering $52,000. But the teachers union rejected that offer on Tuesday, fearing it would come at the expense of long-time teachers who might see little or no new money.

Union president Nancy Velardi said she is concerned about salary compression, which is one of many reasons seasoned teachers are getting discouraged and leaving the profession. “That’s not going to work,” she told district leaders during a bargaining session. “They’re coming in and then they’re going out.”

District officials said in a statement Wednesday that the proposed $50,481.50 minimum was based on state law. The statewide minimum is $47,500. But a formula in the law prescribes how much of a raise a new teacher can receive, compared with those awarded to teachers in the more senior ranks.

According to the document, the district suggested the $52,000 “to remain competitive when hiring teachers.”

Velardi and her team have been trying to negotiate raises across the board as teachers continue to struggle with the area’s escalating living costs. They initially asked for average raises of 11.3%. The district offered 3.25%, then bumped that to 4%.

The district says that with other benefits it is offering, including enhanced medical coverage and more paid planning days, the true value of the increases ranges from 6.21% to 7.42%.

“We have put this proposal together with the intention of paying our employees as much as possible while also remaining fiscally responsible,” said Paula Texel, associate superintendent for human resources.

Velardi’s team asked for detailed information about what the district spends on computer programs for the classrooms, seeking to determine if there is money that could be used to retain teachers instead. No date was set for the next session.

On both sides of the bay, teachers are awaiting outcomes as they settle into the new school year.

Hillsborough teachers have declared a bargaining impasse, although they are continuing to negotiate.

There, the issue is different. The district, concerned about its operating budget because of scrutiny from the state, wants to give teachers the equivalent of this year’s scheduled raises in the form of one-time supplements that would come from a reserve account.

The union says the district can afford conventional raises because of new funding from the state. The district says the new funding is largely earmarked for other expenses. The union also says pay supplements leave teachers vulnerable because next year, they will have to bargain for the money all over again.

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The two sides will meet next on Tuesday.

In both districts, educators are concerned about losing teachers to neighboring counties. In Pasco County, where housing costs are relatively low for the region, voters recently approved a local option property tax to enhance teacher pay. While that money is not yet available, Pasco also approved a 5.4% increase for its teachers.

In Hillsborough, a similar tax referendum was narrowly defeated at the polls. Pinellas has had a local option tax since 2004.

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