Pinellas teachers walk out of pay talks in anger, citing 3.25% raise offer

A day after celebrating the start of school, leaders of Pinellas County’s teacher’s union walked out of bargaining talks, angered by an offer that does not address the area’s double-digit inflation.

“I was insulted. I was insulted for all of you,” Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association President Nancy Velardi said in a video message to teachers.

Union leaders had hoped for a more congenial relationship with the district this year now that Kevin Hendrick has taken the superintendent’s job, replacing longtime leader Mike Grego.

Hendrick was not at Thursday’s bargaining session. But, according to Velardi, his team offered the teachers a standard raise package that averages out to increases of 3.25%.

While that amount was customary in previous years, Velardi said she had urged the district to come in this year with a better offer. “They cannot offer the same 3.25% in a world where the inflation rate in Tampa Bay is 11.3%,” she said.

Velardi said her team objected to the district’s practice of planning its pay packages years in advance. “That’s not negotiation,” she said. “Our people are struggling to stay here. They are struggling to live here.”

District leaders, in a statement responding to Velardi’s remarks, said they offered more than 3.25%. With other spending added — including money to cover increases in health care costs and a special property tax that funds teacher raises — they said their offer adds up to a 4.7% increase.

In addition, they authorized more planning time and are paying more for training time, they said. They estimated raises the teachers want will cost $65 million, which is more than triple the $18.4 million available for the entire district work force.

And they produced a chart to show earnings have more than kept pace with inflation in the last decade.

Pinellas County teacher raises when compared to annual inflation rates. [ PInellas County Schools ]

The next bargaining session is planned for Aug. 22.

Related: Pinellas teachers ask for major raise. ‘Be realistic,’ the district says.

The talks are happening as neighboring Pasco and Hillsborough counties contend with hundreds of teacher vacancies. Pinellas leaders have insisted their problem is far less severe. But Velardi said, “I get calls almost every day from people who are resigning. They’re just calling it quits, and that’s what I’m trying to stop.”

In Hillsborough, the union declared a bargaining impasse on July 28 because the district offered teachers the second in a series of one-time pay enhancement supplements instead of advancing them along the advertised, multi-year pay plan.

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Hillsborough union leaders are supporting a referendum on the Aug. 23 ballot that would create a special property tax for schools like the one in Pinellas. But they also contend the district already has enough money to grant the conventional raises, while the district says it cannot roll any more ongoing expenditures into its budget.

“We need to get this settled,” Hillsborough teachers union president Rob Kriete said, appearing at Thursday’s School Board meeting. “This is a crisis that must be solved for the sake of our students who need and deserve quality teachers and support professionals.”

Rebekah Boore, a Riverview High School reading teacher in her seventh year on the job, told the board that her paycheck is $827.79, covering two weeks’ work. “Of that, I need to pay $235 a week to day care for my daughter,” she said. “That leaves me $357 for two weeks to survive.”

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