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Teachers union wants to return to status quo
Teaching five classes a day is among the issues being raised.
By LETITIA STEIN
Published June 3, 2007
[Times photo: Melissa Lyttle]
In April, about 50 local teachers paced back and forth in front of the Hillsborough County School Board building in protest of the superintendent's plan to have them teach more minutes next year.
TAMPA - From the length of the academic year to when parents can stop by classrooms, Hillsborough's teachers are raising issues that could bring changes to schools around the county.
As always, salary ranks high among the priorities as teachers negotiate a new contract this summer. But other hot-button issues are on the table, including the number of classes high school teachers must handle each day.
Earlier this year, superintendent MaryEllen Elia decided to force most to add a sixth class to their workload. Their contract has allowed for the extra teaching time for years, but it never was enforced.
Now the teachers union is seeking to return to the status quo -- no more than five daily classes for secondary instructors, starting in the 2008-09 year.
"I'm not sure that one is going to be an easy one to resolve," said Yvonne Lyons, executive director and chief union negotiator for the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. "There's strong feelings on both sides."
School officials say their goal is to raise salaries as high as possible for teachers and blue-collar workers, who also will negotiate pay scales this summer. The school district is Hillsborough's largest employer, with about 30,000 employees.
"We want to do whatever we can to compensate teachers as well as we can," said Buddy Raburn, the district's general manager of employee relations.
For the moment, he said the money picture is uncertain. School officials are waiting to see whether the district takes a hit later this month when state lawmakers hold a special session to address property tax reform.
Raburn said the district is looking into various concerns raised by teachers, but has not yet taken positions.
Several bargaining sessions are planned between now and the end of June. Raburn hopes to have a settlement by then, but the teachers union says talks could last into the start of the new school year.
Among the other changes requested by the teachers union:
- Limits on classroom interruptions. Surprise visits from parents sometimes are an issue. No one wants to discourage parents from spending time in schools, but teachers want parents to make appointments before dropping in.
- Eliminate two days from the school year. For years, Hillsborough has touted a longer school year than the required 180 days. Last year, two days were removed, bringing the calendar to 182 days. Now the union wants to remove two more, noting that Hillsborough's salaries aren't comparable to surrounding counties if employees here teach more days.
- Confiscating cell phones without liability. Officially, cell phones are supposed to be off in class. But many students sneak in text messages. Teachers can take them away, but expensive phones have disappeared from their desks. Some parents aren't happy about having to replace $200 devices. The union wants to make sure teachers don't have to pick up the tab.