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Pay raises negotiated for starting teachers

Although the pay for new teachers is high, the plan being worked out would replace a built-in 7-year freeze.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


TAMPA -- When school district officials increased the starting salary for teachers to $30,000 last spring, it was hardly the sweet victory union officials had hoped for.

While the move made Hillsborough's first-year teachers some of the best-paid in the region, it simultaneously capped the pay for new teachers at $30,000 for seven years, leaving teachers with no raise until their eighth year.

Now, faced with another daunting recruitment season and an ever-dwindling pool of potential recruits, district officials are nearing an agreement with the union that will ensure sequential salary increases during a teacher's first seven years.

"We have sensed that other counties are using our salary schedule against us," said Richard Martinez, the district's chief negotiator. "As good a recruitment tool as a starting pay of $30,000 is, it's also a bit difficult to explain that you will spend seven years at that salary."

Martinez said the district is close to an agreement with the union, with final details expected to be worked out by November. The new salary structure would most likely take effect at the start of the next school year.

"All that's left is ironing a few minor details," he said. "None of them are deal-breakers."

Superintendent Earl Lennard said at a School Board meeting Tuesday night that the district was committed to working with the union on the issue. Union officials agreed that a deal is in the offing, adding the closing couldn't come a moment too soon.

"We are not only trying to recruit teachers, but also to retain them," said Chuck Kiker, the lobbyist for the Hillsborough Teachers Classroom Association.

The proposed salary increases would cost the district between $3.5-million and $4-million, money that would be factored into the teacher salary budget no matter how much the Legislature allocates to the district in the spring, Martinez said.

Additional salary increases, such as cost-of-living adjustments, will have to be worked out in the spring, the traditional time for salary negotiations.

Hillsborough's salary schedule stands out from other districts. Pinellas, for example, gives first-year teachers $28,800, but offers raises ever year thereafter. By the seventh year, a Pinellas County teacher earns $31,200. Similarly in Pasco, teachers earn $28,400 their first year, but earn $29,010 by their seventh year.

Martinez said starting teachers in Hillsborough will see a couple hundred dollars added to their salaries each year for their first seven years. By their seventh year, Martinez said, Hillsborough teachers will likely earn $31,500. In addition to more salary hikes for starting teachers, Hillsborough expects to reduce the amount of time it takes to reach the highest salary level, which now is $50,137 for a teacher with a bachelor's degree.

Hillsborough's proposed revamping of its teaching salary schedule comes on the heels of the School Board's approval Tuesday night of a $410,000 plan that brings the salaries of less experienced administrators closer to that of more experienced ones.

The proposed teacher salary increase would represent less than 1 percent of the district's total teacher salary budget, which this year is $450-million.

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