Some Hillsborough County teachers might get raises — but at a cost

Raises would mean staff reductions, says district

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — After a tense year of negotiation, some public school teachers of Hillsborough County appear to be a step closer to getting the raises they were promised.

The Superintendent for Hillsborough County Schools sent his plan to teachers on Monday night, the day before he presents his plan to the School Board.

He also shared the details with ABC Action News on Tuesday morning.

“We’re getting some incredible results in schools across the county. However, in the midst of all that, we know we’re an organization, compared to like-size districts, that had too many employees,” Jeff Eakins said. 

Eakins and his team are executing yet another re-organization of the district as a way to streamline, and reduce the size, of the administration. 

He is also going to be eliminating about 840 positions, including teaching staff. Mostly through “naturally-occurring” attrition such as retirement, resignations, and people moving away.

The re-organization, and other cost-cutting measures, will help the school system save about $30 million heading into the 2018-2019 school year.

How that money is disseminated to the teachers  either through health benefits or immediate salary increases  is still being negotiated with the teachers union, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA).

HCTA leaders say they have not accepted this latest proposal from the district. They're disappointed that the money was not enough to cover both the upcoming scheduled raises, as well as the raises that were promised to teachers this past school year.

But Eakins says it took a lot of adjustments just to get to this point because of a surprisingly little increase in funding from the state government.

“We’re only receiving [from the state budget] 47 cents more per child, which in Hillsborough County amounts to about $100,000,” explains Eakins on Tuesday morning. “Just a one-step increase for all of our employees is about $25 million.”

About $81 of every $100 the district spends goes towards employee pay and benefits, says the district. 

The new plan has the district on pace to be making more money than it is spending; just three years ago the district was spending about $130 million more than the revenue it was taking in, and it put the district in debt just as it had promised teachers it would give them a raise.

The new plan will reduce:

  • the district administration by about 4.5% (13 positions)
  • the instructional staff by about 4% (581 positions)
  • school administration by about 2% (15 positions)
  • support staff by about 2.5% (229 positions)

Total staff will go from 25,173 to 24,335.

Eakins promises that while the attrition of positions will affect some schools, the process will be very spread out across the district, and it will not force any class sizes to go above the legal limits.

“We noticed we had some areas where we were way under our class size projections out across the district,” Eakins said. Adding that by better controlling individual class sizes, the district can maximize teacher effectiveness.

“But we will not having large class sizes like 20, 25 years ago where we had 30, 35, 40 students in a class. That will not be happening.” he added.

Other recent cost-cutting measures included eliminating "courtesy busing," changing the school bell schedule, improving energy efficiency in buildings, selling district-owned real estate, and renegotiating vendor contracts.

Eakins expressed hope on Tuesday that the next governor of Florida would increase the amount of per-student spending.

“It’s a little over $4200 per child [in Florida],” says Eakins. “And if you look around, just in our neighbors states in the southeast, we are one of the lowest. So I think the new governor is going to have to take stock in, what’s our priorities.”

Eakins also says he will be looking into proposing a referendum, such as a sales tax, to help pay for school building maintenance upkeep and improvements.

The School Board will review the plan by Eakins at their meeting at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Eakins does not need the board's approval for the new staffing plan, but will be getting feedback on it at the meeting.

The HCTA has another collective bargaining workshop with the district on Monday.

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