The Hillsborough County budget has grown into somewhat of a sour topic of discussion over the past few years. Especially after the school district spent $800,000 hiring the Gibson Consulting Group in 2015 to assist the county with efficiency and budget management . A budget that, teachers hoped, would include consistent and promised pay raises.
The school district cites that there are too many financial uncertainties, largely due to Hurricane Irma, the possible arrival of displaced students from Puerto Rico, to guarantee every pay raise that teachers are asking for.
What many teachers seek is scheduled pay raises that are consistent and dependable, rather than infrequent and difficult to anticipate. Many are frustrated with discussion of salaries being dragged out over months, with no certainty of whether or not they will receive raises.
Shannon Peck, the new AP World History teacher at Steinbrenner, has previously led protests against the school district.
“We want answers,” said Peck. “When you start cutting the teachers, you’re impacting students. Your best teachers are not going to stick around for long. There are very few meaningful cuts taking place in areas that have huge amounts of waste.”
There were multiple budget cuts put into effect last year, particularly the elimination of courtesy busing across the county and the phasing out of hundreds of jobs in schools. This leads Union leaders and teachers alike to ask why, despite the changes, they have not been given the increases that they were promised.
However, the county claims that despite these changes, the budget system has been on shaky footing for some time and has yet to get back on its feet. Especially, they said after the controversial education bill signed by Governor Rick Scott over the summer, HB-7609.
This bill affects the districts budget, because it dictates the way federal funding is spent in low-income schooling and forces school districts to distribute a portion of its tax revenue to charter schools in the area, rather than the money going into more public schools.
The bill is so contentious, in fact, that a number of Florida school districts are suing the Florida Legislature over HB-7609, including Broward and Lee County. Hillsborough County decided against joining the lawsuit, reasoning that lawsuits are an expense that the county can’t afford at this time.
While the district consented to some raise requests, including the giving of 12.4 million dollars in performance bonuses for the highest-ranked teachers, which is required by the state, and pay modifications for teachers that work in low-income schools, they still left most teachers unsatisfied.
The district states that its mission is to build a steady reserve fund of at least 200 million dollars to use for emergencies, and that with this include, all of those raises cannot be given.
However, Union director, Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, stated that the district was overestimated the amount of money necessary for the pay raises requested, because a number of high-earning teachers, generally those with more experience and more years instructing in the classroom, would be retiring.
When teachers are frustrated with the pay they receive it not only reflects badly on the county, but also in morale for the school year.
“We have families,” Peck said, “And bills, and mortgages, and a life. It’s frustrating when you put your faith in the district and they cannot abide by their agreements. It’s difficult to work for somebody who you can’t necessarily trust to follow through.”
Jordyn Dees // Co-Opinion Editor
Graphic by Maeve Campbell