Thursday, Apr 24, 2014

Hernando school district hopes to finalize teacher raises before winter break


BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County School District is working to finalize negotiations with teachers for pay raises before the winter break.

The district is one of 24 in the state that have not reached at least a tentative agreement with teachers for pay raises.

This week Gov. Rick Scott increased the pressure on school districts to complete negotiations so teachers have their raises before the end of the year.

In in a letter sent to superintendents across the state, Scott urged them and collective bargaining groups to reach agreements, and offered to have the Florida Department of Education mediate if needed.

"We urge every school district that has not finalized negotiations to implement teacher pay raises to do so immediately," he wrote. "We understand the local negotiation process that every district must go through in order to finalize teacher pay raise amounts, but we urge any district that has not yet reached a final agreement to contact Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart so we can offer any assistance possible to expedite this district-level process."

So far, 28 of 67 school districts have finalized teacher pay raise agreements, including all counties in the Tampa Bay Area except Hernando. Fifteen others have reached tentative agreements, which are set to be voted on.

School Superintendent Lori Romano said she is hopeful the district and Hernando Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA) can come to an agreement before winter break. "We really would like for our teachers to have their money prior to winter break," said Romano. "We've provided the HCTA a proposal, and we're waiting to receive their response."

During a meeting last month, the school board presented four collective bargaining options, three of which the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA) rejected, according to Media Relations Specialist for the district, Roy Gordon.

"HCTA is in the process of reviewing them and will accept, reject, or counter at the next meeting," Gordon said.

A date has not yet been scheduled for that meeting, he said.

HCTA President Jo Ann Hartge said the option the association accepted during a Nov. 13 meeting for further negotiation offered to provide a full $5.5 million in increases for all bargaining members' salaries, or a salary increase of 6.5 percent with an additional increase provided prior to winter break, according to a draft of the proposals.

While that was the most appealing option, Hartge said, the drawback is association members would have to remove automatic step increases from their contract.

Some of the proposal's language will need to be tweaked before the association considers approval, she said.

"We're going to be looking at that to see if we can find somewhere agreeable to both," Hartge said. "Many applied to the salary scale itself, but the caveat is we have to give up automatic step (increases), and we're not ready to give up automatic step."

The cost of automatic step increases for this school year totals $1,805,551.

The option, as initially presented with contract removal of step increases, would add between $1,000 and $2,100 to salary schedules depending on one's position and number of years with the district.

The state legislature dedicated $480 million to teacher pay raises earlier this year, Scott states in his letter, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported Florida as having the second largest increase in education spending this year compared to other states.

Florida also had the second largest per pupil increase in education funding on record in the 2013-14 budget year, Scott wrote: the most state funding for education on record in Florida, exceeding $10 billion.

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