Eight months after Hillsborough County teacher contract talks broke down over pay, a state special magistrate on Wednesday made his recommendation for a solution.
He took the teachers’ side.
In a 17-page ruling, Special Magistrate James D. Stokes wrote that his review of the evidence and testimony from an hours-long December hearing convinced him that the district should give teachers a recurring raise for the current year rather than the one-time bonus it offered.
Beyond that, Stokes recommended the district provide repeating supplements up to $3,000 for teachers with advanced degrees, and pay a $10-per-hour supplement to instructional aides who serve as substitute teachers.
He did not agree with the union’s request to pay teachers an added $30 per hour for extra work such as teaching doubled up classrooms or losing their planning period to teach. Instead, he called on the sides to negotiate an “extra duty” pay system.
“While it is understandable that the District needs to be a good steward of public tax money and needs to make wise decisions in that regard; it is equally true that a public school district cannot serve its constituents properly without the dedicated and competent work of its employees,” Stokes wrote.
“The record in this case reflects that the Union stepped up in years’ past when the District was in dire financial conditions and accepted compensation terms which they, no doubt, would have preferred not to accept. They did so because the Union was being a team-player. They did so because they knew that the District was in trouble and needed their help.”
Now it’s time to offer a proper salary adjustment, he wrote.
The magistrate’s recommendation is not binding. The sides still must reach an agreement using it as a guide.
Officials from the district and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association prepared to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss the next steps. Each side sounded optimistic for a quick resolution to the lengthy dispute, which has left teachers without any raises for most of the school year.
“I can’t tell you we’ll have a deal today. But we’re very hopeful we’ll get it done,” union president Rob Kriete said. “We want to get the money into the hands of employees as soon as possible.”
So, too, did school board Chairperson Nadia Combs. She called an executive board meeting on Tuesday to discuss teacher pay, expressing frustration with the delays in receiving the magistrate’s recommendation, which was expected a month ago.
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While waiting, district officials had to justify to the State Board of Education why they hadn’t yet provided raises, which the Legislature funded.
“I know how much our board values our teachers and staff,” Combs said, declining to discuss specifics from the Tuesday closed-door session. “I feel like there’s going to be agreement, finally.”
For herself, Combs said she thinks teachers deserve the raises and the district has little choice, even though voters rejected a tax referendum that would have helped pay the cost.
“We’re losing teachers every day,” she said. “Our classes are really full. Our teachers are working really hard.... I really appreciate all those people who are working so hard for our most valuable asset.”
If the sides reach an understanding, Kriete said he expected to call together the bargaining team for official negotiations to conclude the contract talks. The members and board would then have to hold a ratification vote to formalize their agreement.
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