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Hillsborough teachers call district's salary counter-offer 'slap in the face'

District can't afford scheduled $4K pay raise
Posted at 10:25 PM, Dec 04, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. — Tense budget negotiations between Hillsborough County school officials and disgruntled teachers hit a standstill Monday.

"We worked for it, we earned it, it was promised to us, it's in our contract," said Schwarzkopf Elementary teacher Jennifer Cunningham. 

Six months into a bitter back and forth over a scheduled $4,000 raise the district says it can't afford, there is still no agreement between the two sides. 

"You can't budget for your life," said Schwarzkopf Elementary teacher Karen Saleksy. "If I maintained a budget like this and I had bills to pay and all of a sudden I couldn't pay them, they would foreclose on me."

At the bargaining table Monday, Mark West, Hillsborough County Public Schools General Manager of Employee Relations, offered the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association a $1.8 million one time bonus. 

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Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association Executive Director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins says that equates to only $92 per teacher. Teachers tell ABC Action News, that amount isn't enough to cover the rising cost of their health insurance. 

"It was an absolute disgusting slap in the face saying they do not care about us at all," said Cunningham. "They don't respect us, they don't think that we're worthy of anything beyond that."

District officials say they are not contractually-obligated to issue the $4K raise. They say the salary schedule can be renegotiated every year based on funding levels. 

Hillsborough school officials add they are dealing with unexpected expenses following Hurricane Irma and a migration of new students entering the district from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. District leaders also point to school budget cuts from the state legislature. 

"We want to work on those things, we want to come together in agreement on what our employees need," said a district negotiator. 

The debate has sparked student walk-outs and teacher protests. Some teachers spent last week "working the contract," refusing to grade papers or answer emails from parents during after-school hours. 

Since negotiations stalled Monday, the next possible step is to bring in a mediator.