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Hillsborough teachers union reaches salary increase deal with district

Hillsborough district officials and teacher union members at the bargaining table
Nancy Guan
The Hillsborough teachers union reached a deal with the district on Monday night for salary increases for the 13,000 instructional staff in public schools.

The tentative deal would raise wages for more experienced teachers and lift a salary cap, priorities that the teachers union stressed throughout negotiations.

The Hillsborough teachers union reached a deal with the district late Monday night that would raise pay for most teachers and other instructional staff by an average of 3.68%.

The tentative agreement, which requires ratification by the union and school board, increases salaries for the district’s more veteran teachers and lifts a salary cap that has been in place for years. Most employees will see about a $2,000 increase to their annual salaries.

Members of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA), which negotiates on behalf of the district’s 13,000 instructional staff, said the consensus was reached earlier than usual this year.

“This agreement means huge gains in the way that we've negotiated over the last few years during some really difficult times with COVID. And just dealing with, you know, lack of funding from the state,” said Brittni Wegmann, the Executive Director of the HCTA.

Last school year, the two sides came to an impasse in the summer, which was resolved the following spring by a special magistrate.

Throughout bargaining sessions, the HCTA pointed to past years where the district paid out one-time supplements rather than giving teachers permanent raises, which is what the bargaining unit lobbied for in this round of negotiations.

“This year shows step movement and money on the schedule. With decent increases, we're adding money for our veteran employees, which we've been trying to do for years,” said Wegmann.

The new deal would increase the school district’s total salary expenditures by about $37.9 million, the final compromise between the union’s initial ask of $89 million and the district’s offer of $27.4 million.

Last school year, the district spent about $637 million on salaries.

The district’s bargaining team countered the unions’ arguments that pointed to the district’s large reserve fund, which is six times higher than the state requirement. Hillsborough’s chief negotiator Danielle Shotwell explained that pandemic-related federal funding had boosted reserves, but that those funds would not be recurring in the long run.

“We can make a proposal based only on the resources that we do have,” said Shotwell.

Hillsborough’s tentative agreement came about a week after the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association (PCTA) struck a deal to increase pay by about 4.5% for their instructional staff.

A closer look at salary increases

Teachers on the 10-month pay scale – which includes about 11,500 instructional staff out of the total 13,000 – will receive an annual salary increase of about $2,080 or 3.68%. Exact pay increases will depend on years of experience and yearly evaluations.

The new schedule also boosts pay for the district’s most veteran teachers. Those with at least 25 years of experience can earn $72,490 a year. The current schedule capped salaries at $68,000 for teachers of 23 years.

Throughout negotiations, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA) stressed that their priority was to raise pay for more experienced teachers.

A state measure passed in 2020, raised the base salary to $47,500, a move that veteran teachers higher up on the pay scale criticized as their pay stagnated. Hillsborough teachers with up to eight years of experience earned the same as first-year teachers.

The tentative deal remedies what union and district officials call compression at the bottom of the pay scale with step-by-step increases.

Jill Lamb, an exceptional student education (ESE) teacher, has been with the district for 25 years. Lamb said she’s had to take on more work with ongoing teacher shortages, which is especially acute in the special education field.

“Teaching in general is a lot of work, but it takes a lot of physical and mental energy to address students where they are at,” said Lamb, “there’s a vast range of disabilities and for us to be able to help each student, it’s a lot of work.”

Lamb said the pay increase would help in not only recruiting new teachers into the field, but keeping more experienced teachers like her in the profession.

School social worker Jody Orlando echoed that sentiment. Orlando is a union representative that the district includes in interviews for new social workers.

“We’ve had about 40 social workers who interviewed – master’s level and were interested in the job. Unfortunately, when they find out about the pay, they decline,” said Orlando. “We’ve only added a couple in the school year, but we need many more.”

Monday night’s final round of negotiations hinged on a consensus for student services, a new salary schedule that combines school counselors, social workers and speech pathologists onto the same pay scale as that of psychologists and mental health clinicians.

Previously, those professions, which require a postgraduate degree, were on the same salary schedule as teachers. Union representatives explained that the new arrangement would recategorize and increase pay for the more-than 800 employees.

“School psychologists, social workers are needed,” said Orlando, “when we came back full-time from COVID, we noticed there was a high demand for mental health counseling and school counselors are already stretched to the max.”

The HCTA bargaining unit still must negotiate other terms of the contract, including language that outlines employees’ day-to-day obligations, before the entire contract is ratified. Pay increase will be retroactive to July 1, 2023.

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