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Hillsborough teachers say raises are long overdue in salary contract negotiations

A school classroom with students taking an exam. In the foreground are a number of empty desks, in the background is a whiteboard.
The Hillsborough Classroom Teacher's Association and school district officials left the bargaining table Thursday with a $5 million gap to close between their contract proposals.

The Hillsborough teacher's union and school district came closer to reaching a new agreement on salary increases, but left the bargaining table on Thursday without closing the gap.

After seven hours of bargaining Thursday night, Hillsborough public school teachers still do not have a salary agreement with the district.

The Hillsborough Classroom Teacher's Association (HCTA) and school district officials left the bargaining table with a $5 million gap to close between their proposals.

The two parties are expected to reconvene on Monday at 3:30 p.m. at the HCTA building at 3102 N. Habana Ave .in Tampa.

In the last round of proposals, HCTA asked the district to increase the teacher salary budget by $39.7 million for the current school year, which would increase pay for more experienced teachers, as well as lift the current cap of $68,000 to $72,800.

Union representatives referred to a state-mandated increase for starting teacher pay implemented last year that did not raise wages for more veteran teachers.

Their proposal aims to correct that, said Brittni Wegmann, Executive Director of the HCTA.

Wegmann pointed to the district's "booming budget," which includes an increase of $238 million in this year's general fund, as well as a larger-than-state average reserve fund.

She noted that, in the last three years, the district's budget has consistently increased, while the number of employees declined.

"Is this proposal enough? It's not. I mean, it should be more..." said Wegmann, "But this is a reasonable proposal."

The district's chief negotiator Danielle Shotwell countered, saying that federal funding contributed to the district's reserve funds in the last few years, but that those payments will not be recurring.

"We want to get this down as much as you can. But we also have to be responsible with what the future holds," said Shotwell, adding that the district cannot afford "an operational deficit in the future."

The district proposed increasing one-time supplements or bonuses instead for teachers — which the union is not in favor of.

"The answer is no, we don't have that appetite," said HCTA President Rob Kriete. "I mean, to be frank, we are very close and we are encouraged that we are this close and it is thoroughly disappointing that we're not going to be able to reach an agreement financially tonight."

Negotiations began in August, with the union proposing $89 million for teacher salary increases and the district starting at $27.4 million.

Last school year, negotiations came to an impasse, resulting in no pay increases. Teachers are paid retroactively after the contract is ratified.

Erik Hagen, an elementary school music teacher, said raises are long overdue. He instructs about fifty students — a class size that's meant for two teachers — and has been with the district for eight years.

Yet his salary is the same as that of a starting teacher.

"I'm happy that starting teacher pay has increased because it was very low," said Hagen, "But now I feel like my eight years mean nothing."

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.