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Teachers get big pay boost

The county’s best raise since 1984-85 makes it more competitive with salaries paid in Pinellas and Pasco.

By LETITIA STEIN
Published June 29, 2006


TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s public school teachers will see their best pay raise in two decades — a 10 percent salary increase for the coming school year.


The agreement struck Thursday between school administrators and the teachers union seeks to make Hills­borough more competitive with neighboring counties in recruiting and keeping teachers.

Starting teacher salaries will rise $3,000 to $35,012. Current teachers can expect to receive between $3,265 and $5,362 in extra annual pay.

“Awesome,” said fifth-grade teacher Janet Caraballo of Clair Mel Elementary, who has taught in Hillsborough for 29 years.

Her son entering college also plans to teach. “This is really important to hopefully attracting some good people who will stay in the profession and make it a career,” she said.

Hillsborough’s school administrators have struggled in recent years to pay teachers more after losing prospects to other districts. Without the raise, starting teacher salary in Hillsborough is $2,000 less than Pinellas County and $1,000 less than Pasco. Those districts are still in negotiations over next year’s raises.

The School Board and Hillsborough’s 14,815 teachers still must approve the salary agreement. It likely will not be finalized until after school starts in August, but teachers will receive any pay owed retroactively.

Negotiators at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association touted a raise that comes with few strings attached. They agreed to eliminate one early release day in the fall. They also signed off on adding 20 minutes to teacher’s days for planning during the 2007-08 school year. The time was not included in the salaries set for the 2006-07 year.

“We really thought the teachers deserved a clean 10 percent increase across the board,” said Jean Clements, president of the teacher’s union.

This year, Hillsborough school officials made a significant raise their top budget priority.

Then they had to find the money.

They spent six months looking for ways to move money into teacher salaries. They benefited from a flush budget year in Tallahassee that saw significant increases in education spending.

School officials say it will cost about $60.5-million to provide the 10 percent increase to most teachers. About half came from state money to reduce class sizes. After districts meet class-size requirements, they can use leftover money to raise teacher salaries.

Next year, the finances could change.

“We don’t know from year to year,” said Gretchen Saunders, the district’s chief business officer, who worries about sustaining the raise. “I’m stressed, but it’s a good stress. We haven’t been able to do this (for teachers) for a long time.”

Saunders explained that budgeting for teacher raises assumed that Hillsborough will add 5,100 students in the coming year. Such growth contributed to $22-million in new money for teacher salaries. Officials also paid for teacher raises using increased state dollars for transportation, summer and after-school programs and educating students with disabilities.

“This was an exceptionally good year, and we wanted to have the best raise we could for teachers,” said Daniel Valdez, Hillsborough’s deputy superintendent, who is the chief officer for human resources. “I hope we can do this every year.”

This year’s agreement marks the largest salary bump for teachers since the 1984-85 school year, when 15 minutes were added onto the class day. It amounts to twice the raise instructors received last year.

Under the agreement, a teacher with a bachelor’s  degree who is today at the top of the pay scale will earn $58,981.

Hillsborough also offers teachers pay for performance and bonuses for working in high-poverty schools. Caraballo receives more money for working at Clair Mel. She also qualifies for extra pay because she has earned national certification.

Most of the district’s roughly 4,000 teacher aides and paraprofessionals will receive a 5 percent raise next year.
Beginning in 2007-08, all teachers will work a longer day. The union agreed to extend their day by 20 minutes, bringing the teacher work day to a full eight hours. The extra time will be used for planning.

“We’re there anyway,” said Melissa Fielder, a teacher at Woodbridge Elementary who says she starts early and stays past 5 p.m. most days. “Might as well get paid for it.”

Students don’t face a longer school day, but they may see fewer instructional days in 2007-08. While extending the day for teachers, school officials have agreed to strike at least two class days — and consider removing up to four — from the school calendar.

Six years ago, Hillsborough extended the school year to 184 days, four more than required by the state. The move added time to prepare for standardized tests.

“The students seem to be doing well,” said School Board member Carol Kurdell, who had yet to review the agreement. “I’m willing to try it for a year.”

Times staff writer Thomas C. Tobin contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.