Teacher contracts will not be upheld by HCPS
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Although Hillsborough County teachers have met the necessary evaluation scores, they will not receive the raises they had previously been promised via contract, affecting a third of more than 14000 teachers.
Under the contract, teachers’ salaries would remain the same for 3 years and increase by $4000 the fourth year if they have satisfactory ratings. The district has withheld the salary increases due to continued financial pressures: technology for classrooms and tools for educators, training and professional development for teachers, maintenance and building upgrades as well as repairing and replacing air conditioning systems. Hurricane Irma only served to exacerbate these financial pressures.
In response, teachers have protested though emails, pickets and media statements. Due to their outrage, the district answered with a statement to ensure that students and staff are important to them.
“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,” says the statement, provided through the Tampa Bay Times. “Because of that, our district’s fund balance – which is like our savings account – has dropped dramatically as increased pay has been given out, while at the same time funding from the Legislature has not kept up with the amount needed to pay for our additional costs. As a district, we have to balance priorities and budgets every year to focus on all aspects of what it takes to help students succeed.”
Although the teachers admit they do not work for the pay, the loss of the raises do impact them. “I do disagree with them taking advantage of the fact that we will always do what is best for the kids and that is what it seems like they are doing now,” Algebra 2 teacher Jason Wiggins said.
Personal financial impacts
Some teachers, including English and SAT Prep teacher and student council sponsor April Fiore, gave up their tenure, which provides job security, in order to receive the raise. “I thought ‘this is crazy, I gave away my tenure for this new step increase,’ and I know there was small print that said it had to be approved by the district, but the whole thing just made me very angry,” Fiore said.
Some that were expecting the money planned around it. Fiore bought a car, intending to use the raise to pay for it, as well as for her home mortgage, which she aims to pay off before she retires in 8 years. “It’s not going to be as easy as we expected,” she said.
English teacher and student government sponsor Stefanie Zimmerman was also affected. “For me, we’re looking into buying a house and that $4000 makes a huge difference,” Zimmerman said. “So it really does impact teacher’s plans whether immediate or within the future.”
The retraction of the raises could possibly affect the teachers’ attitudes at school, in addition to their personal monetary situations. “You feel less motivation to keep giving and giving and all the extra time and emotion that goes into teaching that you don’t get paid for,” Zimmerman said. “It impacts your ability to want to be here and it makes you question is this a good decision and should this be something I keep doing all the time.”
Kelly, a father of four children who budgeted around the raises, is considering leaving the district. “It makes me question if it would be better to get a job at another district, that’s a little bit more financially stable or has better leadership at the school board level,” he said. “I like working for the district, I love working for Hillsborough High School, and being here for the students, but unfortunately, none of that translates into helping my kids go to college or paying any bills.”
Some teachers came to the consensus that they should be higher on the priority list. “I am extremely disappointed and feel like they prioritize their spending in a different way and that they need to really put teachers first because we are the ones directing instruction in the classroom,” art teacher Caitlin Clay said. “And that if they don’t do that, they are going to see lots of really highly qualified teachers looking for positions in other districts where teachers are prioritized.”
According to Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, Executive Director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, the district did not break any contract because it is open for teachers to renegotiate.
“It is not a breach of contract because negotiations are reopened yearly,” she said to WTSP. “So not technically in a legal sense, but what it does represent is a breach of good faith.”