Pinellas County teachers sent a message last week when an overwhelming 77 percent voted to reject a controversial union agreement with the school district. It's about working conditions, they said. Not a raise.
This week, their union representatives emerged from a 4½-hour meeting with a new deal that gives them most of what they wanted.
A tentative agreement hammered out Wednesday by district officials and the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association restores language the teachers wanted, keeps previously negotiated salary increases averaging 4 percent, and protects the sanctity of lesson planning time.
The agreement will go before the PCTA's faculty representative council on Dec. 1, with a countywide vote of all teachers scheduled for Dec. 3.
"I feel confident that the council will recommend the membership vote yes on it," said PCTA president Mike Gandolfo.
The proposal contains the old language recognizing the value and necessity of guidance counselors and physical education specialists, and it removes a provision that limited teachers to two extended leaves in a five-year period. First-year teachers would remain ineligible for extended leave because the district follows the Family and Medical Leave Act, which does not recognize first-year employees.
Teachers also would get some respite from diminishing planning time, should the agreement take effect. It sets a maximum of two mandatory meetings a week for all teachers.
Elementary school teachers would get an extra break: Only one planning period a week could be interrupted by the administration to schedule planning activities. And any teacher who is interrupted would not be required to attend other meetings before or after school that day. Extra duties, such as the car line, also would be limited to 30 minutes a day.
If a majority of instructional staff were to vote in favor of the agreement on Dec. 3, a special School Board meeting would be held that evening to approve the contract. The union represents about 7,600 teachers.
District deputy superintendent Bill Corbett said reaching a tentative agreement quickly was a top priority to avoid having to change the teachers' health insurance plan for 2016. He said he felt good about the deal and hopes teachers will ratify it.
The chairwoman of the PCTA faculty representative council, Christine York-Amstutz, who also sits on the union's executive board, said the board recommends that teachers vote yes.
"I really was excited about the tenor of the whole agreement," she said. "To me, it sounded like they listened to our concerns."
Contact Colleen Wright at email@example.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.