District, teachers get closer

Though satisfied with the dollar amount of raises, the union wants more talks over the distribution.

By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - The gap is narrowing in contract talks between teachers and the Hernando County School Board, both sides said Tuesday.

Under the district's latest proposal, teachers would see an average salary increase of 5.5 percent this year, plus the full 1 percent cost of expected health care insurance increases.

That's exactly the amount of money the School Board had originally set aside for teacher salaries in the current budget, but it's an improvement on the district's previous offer to the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

In contract talks last month, the district initially proposed increasing the size of its emergency reserve fund, and raising salaries by just 5 percent plus the health care increase. That prompted complaints at a recent board meeting.

"I think it's disgraceful," said resident Irene Fiore, referring to the county's near-bottom state ranking on teacher salaries. "Give these teachers a raise they can live with, or you're going to lose a lot more of them to other counties."

In its new proposal, the district would set aside about 2.8 percent of its $177.5-million general fund for emergencies, said finance director Deborah Bruggink. That's less than the state's recommended level of 3 percent to 5 percent, but an improvement on the current 2.5 percent.

The district has also proposed some novel cost-saving steps. Raising the thermostat on district air conditioners by a degree saves $70,000, and chopping in half the salary of a proposed assistant superintendent saves $45,000.

But School Board members were determined to raise the starting salary for new teachers in order to close the gap with surrounding districts, Bruggink said.

Under the current proposal, a new teacher's base salary would rise to $33,639 from $32,000. The average teacher, in terms of tenure, would make $41,155, and a 26-year veteran with a doctorate would earn $56,299.

"I think the board definitely wants to keep the starting salary where it is," Bruggink said.

Union officials said they were satisfied with the total amount of money set aside for salaries, but want to talk further about how it's distributed on the salary scale to teachers at different experience levels. And any agreement by negotiators would still need to be ratified by union members.

"We're happy with the dollar amount," said union president Joe Vitalo. "We just need to work it so everyone (in the union) is happy out there."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.