TAMPA - In a year highlighted by bad news and budget cuts, Hillsborough County teachers have managed to eke out pay raises, averaging 2.1 percent.
Teachers will receive between $631 and $2,882 each - an average of $773 - according to an agreement recently reached between the school district and union leaders. The pay increase is retroactive to July 1.
Teacher's aides and clerical workers also will receive 2 percent pay increases.
The agreement, which marked an end to more than a month of negotiations, still must be ratified by union members and the School Board.
Yvonne Lyons, executive director of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, called the settlement a best-case scenario in a worst-case budget year. More than $32-million has been cut from the district's budget because of funding shortfalls from the Legislature. Cuts included kindergarten aides, school psychologists and an after-school program for middle schoolers.
Hillsborough is one of only a few school districts to complete its teacher salary negotiations. Teacher contracts in Pinellas are still pending. Pasco recently negotiated 2 percent raises.
Many of Hillsborough's 12,000 teachers were not expecting raises this year, especially after superintendent Earl Lennard said there was no money for salary increases in his back-to-school press conference last month.
But thanks to budget cuts and fewer-than-expected student transfers to private and charter schools, raises were possible, said Richard Martinez, the district's chief negotiator. Some funds earmarked to pay for the cost of growth also were freed.
"It took a concerted effort," Lyons said. "I think our teachers will be very understanding."
Martinez said district officials are gratified to be able to afford raises, even if they are minimal.
"For a long time, we seriously doubted we'd be able to do that," he said.
This year's raises are slightly below last year's 3 percent increases, or $1,000 on average.
Under the contract, teachers with 18 years of experience will see the largest increases. Beginning teacher salaries, however, will remain at last year's level, $30,502.
Teachers who are above the top step of the pay scale will receive a "longevity supplement" of $1,400. Those who are on the top step will receive a $900 increase.
The average teacher salary in Hillsborough was $36,788 last year. Based on the agreement, the average salary is expected to increase to $37,561.
Other than pay increases, the agreement also increased the number of personal days from five to six. A professional study day in February will moved to the beginning of the new school year, where it will be considered a planning day.
The school district is still negotiating with the Hillsborough School Employees Federation, which represents 3,800 bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers.