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  1. Education

Hillsborough teachers reach tentative pay deal with district

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County teachers union reached a tentative agreement Thursday with the school district that, compared to prior offers, increases the potential for performance pay and gives slightly more money to classroom aides.

"We've got to hammer out some details, but I think we're pretty good," said Stephanie Baxter Jenkins, the union's executive director.

"I'm excited," said district employee relations manager Mark West. "I'm so happy we're actually getting this resolved so we can get our employees paid."

West acknowledged earlier that the contentious negotiations, which began in the summer, hindered efforts to improve morale under the leadership of first-year superintendent Jeff Eakins.

Over the course of the talks, union leaders accused the district of pitting teachers — who saw their earnings improve during a reform experiment funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — against the aides, who earn so little that some get food stamps.

In the end, the two groups still were not treated equally. Assuming the agreement is ratified, teachers' scheduled pay raises will be retroactive to July 1. The aides will get a 6 percent raise but it will not be retroactive. Instead, they'll get bonuses of $275, a $25 increase over the last offer.

District officials say that, for more than 90 percent of the aides, the bonus will be at least as good as a retroactive raise. While the union did not like the precedent, the district insisted it's also the fastest way to get money into the aides' paychecks.

The two sides have had to contend with numerous uncertainties as they have slogged through the talks.

No one knows what the teacher evaluation system will look like now that Eakins is undoing key components of the Gates reforms. And, with state test data late to arrive, district officials did not know how many teachers would qualify for performance bonuses of $1,900 and $2,900 based on last year's work. On Thursday they estimated the tab could run as high as $14.5 million this year.

An agreement could come before the School Board in January.

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