Teachers to get 8 percent raise

As districts locally and statewide fret about budget cuts, Hillsborough feels confident.

Published July 19, 2007

TAMPA - Most Hillsborough teachers can expect to see about an 8 percent raise this year.

The significant increase, which follows a 10 percent raise last year, comes as districts statewide worry about budget shortfalls. Pasco County schools have suspended negotiations on money issues, and talks in Pinellas are on hold.

But Hillsborough is confident.

"We've needed to make substantial savings across the board this year so that we could do this," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia, enthused about the agreement reached Wednesday. "We're moving ahead."

If ratified by teachers and approved by the School Board, the annual salary for a starting teacher in Hillsborough would climb to about $37,100.

For current teachers, the 8 percent raise will require some additional work. The vast majority of Hillsborough's nearly 15,000 teachers are moving to an eight-hour workday, 20 minutes more than today's schedule. The extra time accounts for about half of the 8 percent raise.

And some of the money for the salary package came from Elia's controversial decision to force many high school instructors to teach an additional class period. Many teachers have protested the move, warning that lessons and school activities could suffer as their workload increases at the expense of planning time.

Those hoping to see that decision reversed during contract talks are likely to be disappointed. School officials and the union agreed to create a committee to monitor the issues involved.

The additional high school period is one reason Art Guzzetta, a Plant City High teacher who sat in on Wednesday's contract talks, is reserving judgment on the agreement.

"I'm encouraged with what I've heard so far," said Guzzetta, who has taught for more than 30 years. But he added a caveat: "I personally would like to see a little more in the pot for people at the highest level."

Teachers with a bachelor's degree at the top of the salary schedule can expect to earn about $61,300 annually. Hillsborough also offers various opportunities for enhancements, from performance pay to stipends for higher degrees and incentive money to work at high-poverty schools.

This year's negotiations addressed not only salaries, but also revisions to the contract spelling out working conditions.

Among the changes:

- Playground time is voluntary for elementary school teachers having to meet the state's new physical education requirements. They will have other options for teaching fitness.

- Teachers won't be held responsible for the cell phones and electronic devices confiscated from students, so long as they follow proper procedures when taking them.

- Pay supplements are slated to increase for many athletic coaches, who also would receive bonuses for staying in the job over the years. Stipends also are going up for team leaders at elementary and middle schools and those in exceptional education programs, as well as for yearbook sponsors.

Teachers should have information about the contract by the start of the school year.

"They should be ecstatic," said Yvonne Lyons, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, who said she's received worried e-mails from teachers reading about budget cuts statewide. "I think expectations are a little low out there."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

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Other salary news

Hillsborough school officials also announced a 6 percent raise for support staff, including teachers' aides, bus drivers and custodians.

Principals and other administrators can expect raises of about 5.5 percent.

The district's salary package, including the raises for teachers, totals an increase of about $73-million.