Hillsborough union says the district is pitting teachers against aides in salary talks

Published Nov. 21, 2015

TAMPA — With the winter holidays approaching, the Hills­borough County school district and teachers union are no closer to an agreement over pay than when negotiations began in the summer.

Talks broke down again this week with angry words from the union, which has been trying to get more money for lower-paid members, including secretaries and classroom aides.

"On the whole they went backward, but did it in a way to pit our members against each other," union director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins told members in a Facebook message.

"Total lack of good-faith bargaining is an unfair labor practice and a slap in the face to all of you. You deserve better and we will not give up until you are treated with respect."

Baxter-Jenkins said Friday that the administration offered higher hourly wages to the support workers, who now start at $9.12 an hour. While the details changed throughout the day, it would amount to roughly a 6 percent raise.

But in a departure from long-standing district practice, none of the raises — including those for teachers — would be retroactive to July, when the last pay year ended.

That means some teachers, who are under a new pay scale that gives them a raise of $4,000 every three years, could miss out on as much as $2,000 if the process does not conclude until January.

That's a real possibility, as the district will be closed for the Thanksgiving week and then open only three more weeks before the winter break. Not only do the two sides need to agree at the bargaining table; union members must vote and the School Board must approve the contract.

Anticipating this week's bargaining session, union leaders and members lined up at Tuesday's School Board meeting to appeal for higher wages for support workers. Some receive food stamps or work multiple jobs, they said.

The stalled negotiations are happening as the district contends with several related situations: Jeff Eakins is settling in as superintendent, his staff is working to resolve a spending deficit of more than $100 million and a teaching reform grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is drawing to a close.

During the years of the Gates grant, the district and union negotiated a new pay plan that rewarded teachers for both seniority and performance.

District officials estimated the new pay plan and performance bonuses — now required under state law — increased yearly teacher pay by $77 million. But the union contends that the plan is sustainable, and that there are plenty of other places where the administration can cut costs.

A committee is meeting, meanwhile, to advise Eakins on how to proceed with teacher evaluations and support once the Gates grant ends in 2016.

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