HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Teachers and families packed the Hillsborough County School Board meeting once again on Tuesday to ask district leaders to reconsider eliminating hundreds of positions.
The district reported a big decline in enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year. Top administrators say there are too many teachers assigned to certain sites and education units based on enrollment in some schools.
On Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Addison Davis announced they'd reached a tentative agreement with Classroom Teachers Association to give a salary increase to all teachers.
"As staffing adjustments are made across the district, we cannot forget those serving on the front lines. Our teachers have provided students with innovative learning opportunities, both online and in our classrooms, during this pandemic and we’re thrilled we’re able to honor their hard work with this agreement,” said Superintendent Davis.
The district explained salary adjustments will be possible in part due to the passage of House Bill 641. Hillsborough County Public Schools will receive $38 million for teacher salary adjustments this year. The district explained 80 percent of those funds are earmarked toward the minimum base salary for new teachers. Under the district’s proposal, nearly 4,500 teachers in traditional schools will be moved up to a salary of $46,900, an increase from the district's previous starting salary for new teachers of $40,000.
The district says the superintendent wanted to make certain all teachers are compensated to not lose sight of the more than 10,000 teachers who have dedicated their career to students. However, some teachers are skeptical of an increase.
“All I can say is my paycheck has gone backwards for the past two years, so I haven’t seen anything," said Shelly Valdez. "The pay raises are going to the new teachers. The people who have been there for a long time, it’s not going to us that’s for sure, and if it is a pay raise, it’s probably not very much.”
The announcement comes as the district is in the midst of teacher adjustments. According to a letter to families posted on social media, Superintendent Davis said 424 vacant jobs will not be filled this school year. The district updated to say that it is also projected to reduce 246 filled positions.
But what does that actually mean?
The district says of those 246 positions, 124 are teachers hired after August 14 on temporary contracts. Teachers who were hired before August 14 will remain employed. However, they could be moved and reassigned to open jobs at other schools or get a different role at their current site, depending on enrollment numbers.
For those who were hired on temporary contracts after August 14, the district said those teachers may be hired back, but the district expects 50 to 60 of the 124 teachers will not return. 149 district positions were also eliminated. The district said the position adjustments in total could cut more than $57 million from active payroll over the course of the year.
During the press conference, Superintendent Davis got emotional talking about the tough decisions he's been faced with during the pandemic.
"Like many of you, this has been one of the toughest times for me professionally," said Davis. "I am uberly focused and intensely on my job, but this has weighed heavy on my heart, and I know this isn’t about me, but I’ve had to make really difficult decisions that I wouldn’t make as a leader. I would never, ever take educators out of schools, but when faced with a situation like this, its taxing, not only on students, not only on this board, not only on this partnership with CTA, but the community."
The adjustments are still leaving many teachers feeling uncertain and frustrated.
"It's very much an anxious type of setting because there's just like this era of, will I have a job tomorrow," said Justin Combes, a U.S. History teacher at Hillborough High School in Tampa. "It's terrible because our principal literally can't give us an answer."
Dozens of teachers are now saying they are being by told by school administrators that their positions will be eliminated or their temporary contracts will not continue past next week. Many teachers say they are devastated and this will have a profound impact on students, even if they are transferred to another school and don't lose their employment altogether.
"They felt loved and they felt like they had some normalcy, and now this is being ripped away from them," said Bronwyn Heyman, a science teacher at Williams Middle Magnet School.
Heyman said administrators told her late last week that her position as a science teacher is set to be eliminated and that this will be her last week at Williams Middle Magnet School, a position she calls her "dream job."
Heyman is now working to clean out her classroom and is wondering where she will go next. She was hired on July 1 and is not working on a temporary contract, so the district stated she will remain employed, but will likely be moved.
She is also concerned about what will happen to the more than two dozen kids she has in each period and how they will be spread between the two other existing science teachers.
Heyman currently teaches four eLearning classes and two in-person classes. She said as teachers are moved around now, the schedule change for kids who are already nine weeks into the school year is disruptive at best and breaks the bonds they've formed with existing teachers.
"They are placing their faith and their trust and their whole hearts into teachers that they love and those teachers are getting "reallocated," Heyman said. "You can call it what you want, but at the end of the day, it doesn't make it any less devastating for the students who are experiencing it."
Hillsborough School representatives said class sizes for brick-and-mortar classrooms in this case will remain between 27 and 30 children.
A group of Heyman's students started a petition to try and stop her transfer to another school, which has gathered more than 400 signatures.
This comes as the Hillsborough Save the Arts Facebook group, created by concerned students, teachers and families, is now calling on school board members to "reject the budget."
The district communications office said it's likely teachers will know who is getting moved from their current school or what temporary contracts are cut by the end of the week.