Pinellas teachers, support staff overwhelmingly back raise plan

The district is in a better situation than most because of revenue from its local-option property tax.

Tampa Bay Times | by Jeffrey S. Solochek | October 27, 2020

Pay raises surpassing 3 percent appear on the way for Pinellas County school district employees, with teachers and instructional support staff providing strong backing of recently negotiated contract proposals.

After four days of electronic voting, members of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association ratified their deal with 94.8 percent voting yes. Just over 3,200 teachers — less than half of the total eligible — cast ballots for the agreement, which increases the minimum teacher pay to $47,500 and boosts all teachers’ salaries by a minimum of 3.45 percent.

The smaller Pinellas Educational Support Professionals Association backed its contract offer of 3.25 percent raises across the board with 96.8 percent for the plan.

“Obviously, I’m pleased it was ratified,” said Nancy Velardi, the teachers union president.

The vote tallies, announced Tuesday, paved the way for the School Board to consider approval when it meets at 5 p.m.

Board members have signaled their intention to okay the deals, along with other agenda items that would give 3.25 percent raises to other negotiating units and to employees who are not part of collective bargaining. That group includes administrators, supervisors and other non-represented positions.

The deal, which also would have the district cover about 70 percent of the increase in health insurance costs, would be retroactive to the start of the school year.

District officials have made clear that the reason they’re able to provide these raises is because of the voter-approved property tax referendum, which appears on the Nov. 3 ballot for a possible four-year extension. In crafting legislation to boost classroom teacher salaries by $500 million statewide, lawmakers focused their attention on base salary and did not direct funds toward more veteran educators or other school employees.

In Pinellas, the added property tax revenue allowed the district to have enough resources to cover all employees.

“We ended up okay because we have the referendum,” Velardi said. “In so many counties, they were deeply hurt because of this demand” that the money go into the lowest salaries.

Many districts could not approach the $47,500 target set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, much less offer meaningful raises to other staff. In Pasco County, for instance, district budget officials have said they can get the base teacher pay to just over $45,000, and would try to scrape together other funds to provide about 1.4 percent to others.

The Hillsborough County school district agreed to terms boosting its minimum teacher pay to $46,900, with extra money to bump teachers at the top end of the salary scale. The news came on the same day it also announced it would be slashing teaching positions to save $57 million.

Photo: Pinellas County teachers Annette Wylie, Debby Farias and Stephanie Horneman rallied in Tallahassee in January for improved financial support of public education. Pinellas County teachers and other district employees are set to receive raises over 3 percent with contract proposals now up for final approval. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

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