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Pinellas teachers approve tentative contract

Teacher presents to group of students sitting on the floor.
The process has been long; negotiations began over the contract last July.

The deal would provide an average 3.25 percent raise and give teachers up to 15 additional hours of paid planning time.

As the summer approaches and the school year nears it end, Pinellas County's educators may finally struck a deal on this year's contract.

The process has been long; negotiations began over the contract last July.

Teachers passed the contract on March 22, which now waits for approval from the school board.

The deal would provide an average 3.25 percent raise -- which will include retroactive pay for this year -- and give teachers up to 15 additional hours of planning time which will be paid back through January 1st, 2022.

Teachers are frustrated that their salaries aren't rising as other costs climb, says Nancy Velardi, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

"We're not keeping up with inflation, we're not keeping up with the cost of living here in this area,” she said. “So many people are not only leaving our district, they are leaving Florida because they simply cannot work under these conditions.”

Velardi added that since the county will be receiving more funding this year than it has in the past, it should consider larger raises for teachers.

"I do think that they need to start trying to catch up to the cost of living if they want to hold on to their teachers."

The contract passed the union with 78.3 percent approval, which is less support than usual, Velardi said. Typically the contracts pass with more than 90 percent approval.

Velardi said that the deal does not do enough to support veteran teachers.

The tentative agreement would give teachers on annual contracts raises of between about $700 and nearly $1,900. But she says salaried teachers who are "grand fathered" in will receive about $1,600.

"Much as I applaud bringing our new teachers up, and giving them better starting salaries and making sure they're paid well, I am all about that, “she said. “ But I do not like seeing that on the backs of teachers who have already been working here."

Velardi lobbied for "longevity supplements" that would ensure veteran teachers received more substantial raises to ensure pay equity. These supplemental payments would be given based on each teacher’s years of service, and increase based on the number of years served.

“I believe now with the teacher shortage and with so many leaving the profession, it’s imperative that we start implementing some practices to keep teachers in their jobs.”

Officials rejected the request, saying it would violate the law.

She plans to ask for the supplements in the bargaining session for the 2022-2023 school year.

“I believe that hopefully in the future, we will be able to provide some equity for our veteran teachers,” Velardi said.

School Board members are expected to approve the deal at their meeting April 12th.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
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