TAMPA — The second Hillsborough County School Board meeting in less than a month took place Tuesday against a backdrop of honking car horns, cheering teachers and audience members moving through the room in shifts.
Dressed in blue union-issued T-shirts, teachers made so much noise outside the room that it was hard to hear discussions inside about the work they’re doing to boost high school graduation; or the budgetary problems that are getting in the way of $15 million in pay raises.
The demonstration, a carnival-like affair that included a hamburger stand and dozens of children, was held a day after the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association was told it will receive a total bonus of $1.8 million this year to be shared among some 20,000 employees.
The union says that adds up to a onetime payment of $92 per person, a far cry from the $4,000 raise roughly a third of the teachers were expecting.
"Appalling and disrespectful," was the reaction from Clark Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lisa Mayhugh, one of 28 who signed up to speak during the employee input portion of the meeting.
Said Sligh Middle Magnet School media specialist Joshua Newhouse: "We’re tired. We don’t feel respected. We don’t feel heard."
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Throughout the afternoon and evening, teachers described bills they can’t pay without side jobs and a lack of trust that has come with disappointing pay negotiations.
"These teachers are your front line," Carrollwood parent Cynthia Cox told the board. Turning to address the blue-shirted employees, she added, "Don’t back down, teachers" and was met with enthusiastic applause.
Officially, negotiations between the district and the union are ongoing. School district leaders hinted months ago that, with uncertain information from Tallahassee, they might not be able to honor a pay plan that was enacted in 2013.
On Oct. 23, they gave the teachers a hard no on their request for a year’s credit for pay purposes. As most teachers get a $4,000 raise every three years, that act would have triggered the increase.
The district, which has struggled for the last three years to rein in spending and protect its reserves, said those raises would add $17 million to their ongoing expenses. The union said the amount is closer to $15 million.
Either way, the district says it will jeopardize its credit rating if it continues to add to recurring expenses. After offering the union a $1.8 million payment on Monday, school district chief negotiator Mark West said he also wants to redesign the pay plan.
On Tuesday, board members struggled to hear the teachers out while also keeping the meeting from becoming too rowdy.
New board chairwoman Sally Harris moved to limit speakers to one minute each. That was extended to two minutes after a loud outcry from the audience.
If the union does not accept the district’s offer, negotiations will progress to an impasse process that will require a hearing officer.
Superintendent Jeff Eakins, in his remarks at the end of the meeting, said nothing about the pay dispute.
The other board members also avoided the subject, although member Tamara Shamburger made an indirect reference to the evening’s events when she asked everyone in the school system to "do some self reflection" on the role they might play in parents’ decisions to send their children to charter schools.
In other business, the school board named Krissy Perkins as principal of Trapnell Elementary School.
The board also approved a contract for Creekside Charter Academy. The Riverview school will be the sixth to be managed by Charter Schools USA.
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 810-5068 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @marlenesokol.