Local Teachers Speak Out On District’s Backdown From Step Pay Increase

By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County Public School (HCPS) teachers took their concerns over the District’s plan to forgo a once negotiated raise to the streets last month.

Unhappy with the way they fit into HCPS’s current financial future, a small group of Randall Middle School teachers, supported by students and some parents, lined the roadway across the schoolyard encouraging motorists and passersby to raise awareness of the issue.

“It’s a demonstration against the school board’s plan to backtrack from a pay plan that would raise teachers’ salaries for most by $4,000 every three years,” said Randall business and technology teacher Jonathan Bock.

Bock, who himself have already received the first round of raises added that the main concern is that the money to be paid out was already negotiated.

“All this was promised,” he said, adding, “Contract negotiations should be conducted before the school year starts.” Teacher salaries in the district reportedly start at $38,000 and max out at around $66,000, and with more than 14,000 teachers, it is by no means chump change.

According to a recent estimate, ‘Band jumpers’ (teachers advancing to the next three-year pay level) would reportedly cost the district nearly $18 million.

Adding to the mix is annual cost-of-living increase, pay differentials for teachers and raises for classroom aides.

In a recent release to the media HCOS officials expressed the school board’s concern about all county teachers and students.

“Our district has given our employees more than $200 million in pay and benefits increases over the past four years, despite a district financial picture that was not promising,” said HCPS spokesperson Tanya Arja, adding that due to such increases, the district’s fund balance, or its savings account, has dropped dramatically as increased pay has been given out. At the same time funding from the Legislature has not kept up with the amount needed to pay for additional costs.

Arja emphasized that the district has to balance priorities and budgets annually to focus on all aspects of what it takes to help students succeed.

School officials zeroed in on revenue drying up, that is funding coming into the district to pay for salaries and the other things, which are not keeping pace with growth and costs.

The two main challenges reportedly facing the district are: state Legislature is shifting money to charter schools that had supported education in traditional public schools for decades; a growing number of students from all backgrounds are choosing to attend tuition-free charter schools, redirecting state education money out of traditional public schools.

For now—before it moves ahead with anything that would involve spending more money—the district is promising to gather information about its financial picture along with student enrollment.
The School Board has recently scheduled to hold a pair of hearings on its close to $3 billion 2017-18 budget.

Bock summed up the effort of the group of teachers standing on the roadway with signs in hand hoping for their promised raises when he said, “Our message is, honor what you said.”
For more information about Hillsborough County Public Schools, please visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us.