Contract yields small gains, high hopes
As teachers vote on the proposal, district and union officials are hopeful it will be the cornerstone for future pay increases.
By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published January 27, 2006
This year's proposed contract probably won't draw many cheers from the county's teachers. Most instructors are just guaranteed an extra $800 across-the-board increase.
But district and teachers union officials are highlighting other features in the proposed contract as the cornerstones of a long-term effort to pay the county's teachers more money. By doing so, they hope to convince teachers that they will get more substantive raises in future years if they accept this year's contract.
After months of negotiations that included one formal declaration of impasse and intervention by a federal mediator, the teachers union and district administrators agreed on a contract for this school year in December.
Now, everyone is waiting to see if the county's teachers vote to ratify. The teachers have been voting all week. Brian Phillips, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, said he hoped to have the results by this afternoon. The School Board is expected to approve the contract Feb. 7.
As Phillips described the agreement to a small group of teachers in the media center of Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics on Tuesday afternoon, he stressed his hopes for the future as much as the realities of the present.
"It's a first step in addressing our need to recruit and retain quality teachers," Phillips said.
He then went on to outline the contract's main points and field questions from teachers. Many wondered what steps the union would take to win an even better deal next year.
David Sykes, a history teacher at Challenger, said that many teachers at the school had been unclear about various details in the proposed contract. But he said teachers who became familiar with the contract were more open to accepting it.
"It's still very new to a lot of people ... but there's some positive feeling (for it)," Sykes said.
In addition to giving all teachers a retroactive $800 raise, the contract would more than double the supplemental money given to speech and language pathologists. Teachers with 11 years of experience or more in Hernando will get an annual longevity payment ranging from $261.35 to $609.81, retroactive to this month.
Starting next school year, the longevity pay increase will be extended to teachers with six or more years of experience in Hernando. And teachers who obtain advanced degrees will get from $200 to $600 more next school year. All the pay raises come in addition to the average 2.5 percent step increase for experience that teachers have received.
Still, many teachers remain frustrated that this year's agreement does little to improve how the county stacks up against other Florida school districts when it comes to teacher pay. The average salary for a Hernando teacher in 2004-05 was $36,177, about $5,400 less than the state average and 60th among the state's 67 school districts. Every neighboring county in the area ranked far higher than Hernando.
District officials and teachers union negotiators say they want to do an even better job on next year's contract. On Feb. 13, they will begin a series of monthly meetings to talk about ways they can improve compensation for Hernando teachers.
Barbara Kidder, the district's director of labor relations and professional standards, described the meetings as a way to keep talking about the issues raised during this year's negotiating sessions.
One of those issues involves speeding up the rate at which new teachers can get raises. Under the district's current salary schedule, many new teachers aren't eligible for a raise for several years.
"We can't keep losing good young teachers to Pasco," Phillips said. "Parents have to get concerned about that."
Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352 848-1431.
[Last modified January 27, 2006, 01:21:16]
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