Hillsborough County reneges on agreement with teachers for scheduled raises

Mismanagement of funds leads to teachers not receiving what they have rightfully earned


Jordyn Kalman

Teacher protests budget cuts that revoke promised pay raises outside Randall Middle School.

Matthew Bradford and Jordyn Kalman

This past month, thousands of teachers in Hillsborough County were told that they would not be receiving scheduled and promised pay raises of around $4,000 each due to budget constraints.

The agreement states that teachers’ salaries stay steady for three years then increase by $4,000 in the fourth year, contingent on each teacher receiving at least a satisfactory evaluation. District officials estimate the total cost of the pay raises to be $17 million and would affect approximately one-third of the teachers.

The deal was honored in 2015 and 2016, but this year there is not enough money in the budget to fulfill it.

In an official statement the district said, “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. The average pay for a Hillsborough County teacher is now the second highest in the Tampa Bay area and the eighth-highest in the state of Florida. Because of that, our districts fund balance 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.”

The statement also cites technology for classrooms, training for teachers, building maintenance, and air conditioning as other places where money will be delegated.

The plan itself was never a signed contract and teacher contracts are re-negotiated and revised every year, so no law is being broken by cutting raises, but the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, the official teachers’ union for the district, is unhappy with the district’s decision to renege on their agreement.

They say teachers are already underpaid as it is and aren’t paid for the overtime they work, which includes grading papers, holding conferences, and taking phone calls after school hours. A large portion of the work teachers do is off the clock to ensure their students are successful.

The issue lies within the county and the school board. Hillsborough County is currently in a deficit and is severely mismanaging the little funds they have left. The county has been losing tens of millions of dollars each year in its main reserve account and has resorted to tapping into its reserved payroll to keep up with the increased spending and teacher raises.

One reason funds have gone dry is the passage of a new law by the Florida State Legislature that classifies charter schools as public schools, therefore shifting taxpayer dollars away from traditional public schools who have a greater need for the money.

The law also reduces the tax rates that raise money for maintenance and new schools, so even as the district grows and is forced to build and repair, there will never be enough money to match the price.

However, honoring their agreement with the teachers should be Hillsborough’s number one priority.

Teachers not being given what they have already been promised and earned not only sets a bad precedent of failing to respect teachers, but will have a long-term effect that will damage the school system’s reputation and keep the best up and coming teachers from seeking employment in Hillsborough County Schools.

Choosing to take away scheduled raises shows the teachers they are a non-priority while also implying the district feels they won’t receive enough backlash to be forced to honor their commitment.

The county has been warned for years that their failure to address the problems with air conditioning will catch up to them. Some schools are using rental chillers to cool their classrooms which do not fix any long-term problems and puts additional strain on an already ailing budget.

This is not the first time that the School Board and Superintendent have come under fire for their misuse of funds. In June of this year, ABC Action News reported that the school board spent $336,000 to upgrade their boardroom auditorium.

According to a leaked email cited in the report, the Board hired a professional designer to give an opinion on the paint color and used more funds for purchasing new picture frames for the room.

The Board then claimed that both the frames and the professional’s time were donated, but the money was still spent on upgrading the technology when there are obviously more dire needs that must be addressed.

Another use of money the school district has come under fire for is the use of taxpayer money to fund travel for the school board members.

According to WTSP.com, board member Susan Valdes spent $14,116 traveling to conferences around the United States while the rest of the School Board combined spent only $13,299 in one year from May 2015 to May 2016.

A Tampa Bay Times article published in 2013 also states that Valdes spent $87,000 total in travel her first seven and a half years on the board.

If Hillsborough needs an example of how to treat its teachers right, they need to look no further than our neighbors in Pasco County.

This September, they set aside an undisclosed amount for teacher raises while also increasing health insurance benefits by 2 percent.

To get the best teachers to continue coming to Hillsborough, teachers must be given the respect and pay they have earned or else they will find another county to work in, or even worse, another career.