Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough County teachers union representatives and district leaders during Monday's contract negotiations. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Hillsborough County teachers union representatives and district leaders during Monday's contract negotiations. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
Published May 22, 2018

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers' union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday's negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.

The teachers, who have spent this school year working at last year's pay rate, want more than what the district offered on Monday: A $36 million raise package for the district's 18,500 teachers and support workers.

That offer comes with a caveat: The district wants to rewrite the current pay plan, which now gives qualified teachers $4,000 raises every three years.

Instead, the new proposal would raise each teachers' salary by $1,333 a year.

The new plan comes with a heavy cost for one group of teachers: Those expecting their $4,000 this year would lose those raises in what the district called a "pause."

There is more is at stake in the negotiations than the satisfaction of 15,000 teachers and thousands of support workers.

The district is also exploring the possibility of putting a tax referendum on the ballot to raise more revenue for schools, a campaign that will be difficult to mount without the support of teachers.

"The goal is to set up a fair and equitable system," Mark West, general manager of employee relations and the district's chief negotiator, said Monday. "This is what we have as far as fitting within the confines of the budget we have been given."

Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the union's executive director, said her members do not trust the district enough to approve a new pay plan.

Reminded that the state under-funds education, she said, "the whole notion that we can't do better than the Legislature ... let's be clear. You're choosing not to because it's cheaper."

Baxter-Jenkins said there is a lot not to like about Monday's offer, which comes after a year of stalled talks, rejected proposals, loud public protests and stalled negotiating sessions.

In addition to asking teachers to forgo the current year's raises, it does away with state-ordered performance bonuses that at one time were as high as $3,000 for top teachers.

The district wants to use the state's Best and Brightest awards to replace the district bonuses.

But many teachers do not like the way the state administers its program. Not all union members are eligible, particularly those with jobs outside the classroom, such as media specialists. To solve that problem, the district offered awards of $800 and $1,200 for those non-classroom employees who meet other state criteria.

But the teachers who receive both the district bonus and the state award would lose out.

And, Baxter-Jenkins pointed out, the proposal says all future raises, including those based on experience, will be negotiated annually. The district says it must negotiate pay every year because of the unpredictability of state funding.

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Suggestions went back and forth as the day wore on. Baxter-Jenkins said that since so many teachers would lose money under the new proposal, the district should give teachers two years' worth of raises to soften the blow.

West said there might be room for a compromise. The two sides agreed to meet again on Wednesday.

Other issues remain, including how much the district can pay teachers' aides and school secretaries; and whether it will offer a cost of living increase to those who have reached the top of the pay scale.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or Follow @marlenesokol.