Teachers set to get minimal raises
By KELLY RYAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
Under a proposed contract for the 2001-2002 school year, Pinellas County teachers would get an average of 2.7 percent raises plus a one-time bonus of $850.
Teachers voted 2,162 to 1,802 Tuesday to support the contract, which was negotiated by the teachers union and district representatives.
Under the deal, district support employees and administrators will get average salary increases of 2.5 percent. Additionally, the district will continue to pick up sharply rising health insurance costs for its employees. On average, the district will pay $728 per employee for health care.
The School Board will vote on the contracts and employee health care plans at 1 p.m. Tuesday at district headquarters, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo.
Next year's contract pales in comparison to last year's, when teachers got average raises of 6 percent, plus another 1.7 percent for two additional training days. It was the biggest raise in more than a decade, but educators said it was still not nearly enough to be competitive with surrounding states and some surrounding counties.
Teachers approved last year's contract by a wider margin -- a fact that doesn't surprise Jade Moore, executive director of the teachers union.
"It's a legitimate reaction to the value of the contract," Moore said. "It's a bad salary schedule."
Moore pointed out, though, that Pinellas' pay package is far better than some other Florida counties', such as Hernando, that are struggling financially.
Under the new contract, beginning teachers will earn $29,400, plus the $850 bonus. Last year, new teachers earned $28,800 plus a one-time $1,000 bonus.
One aspect of the contract that has riled teachers is that the one-time, state-mandated $850 bonus is counted as more money, but it doesn't count toward a teacher's retirement.
"I think what's causing a lot of it is the $850 bonus in there," said Pinellas schools spokesman Ron Stone.
But teachers are also upset that in some steps at the top of the salary schedule, salaries are the same as last year. Some teachers wonder why more money isn't being pumped in to reward those with classroom experience.
The minimal raises come during a bleak budget year. Pinellas got a fraction of the money it received last year, so officials said they had to find $12.8-million to balance the budget and provide even small raises.
All schools are losing 10 percent of their discretionary budgets, and all district-level departments are cutting 2 percent of their budgets. Teachers on special assignment in district offices are being returned to classroom teaching positions.
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