Hillsborough educators waiting for updates on salary increases

Photo by @hillsboroughsch | The Interim Superintendent, Van Ayers, appointed to the permanent position on November 2nd, 2023.

A proposed tax referendum is crucial for the reputation of the new superintendent.

By Zaniya Graham Education Beat Reporter

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – Hillsborough County teachers and staff are eager to see how the district’s new superintendent will carry out the much-needed pay referendum.

The 2023-2024 school year in Hillsborough County Public Schools started with over 500 unfilled teacher positions, which is a decrease from the 691 vacancies in the previous year.

The district is facing difficulties in attracting and retaining teachers and one of the main reasons is low pay.

Florida ranks among the bottom five states nationally for teacher salaries. Additionally, the cost of living in Tampa, which was recently reported as the most expensive city in Florida relative to income, has only added to the worries of educational staff.

Teachers like Mai ly Ho are waiting to see what the district’s next move will be regarding a raise in pay.

Ho recently left HCPS after six years and switched to a charter school for better support and pay.

“Every time I blink, something is more expensive, yet my salary wasn’t changing,” Ho said.

Ho said she has not lost hope for a pay increase in the school district following a recent news conference held at Town and Country Elementary School.

The newly appointed Superintendent Van Ayres expressed his priorities and emphasized the urgent need for pay raises.

He stated that the district requires more funds to recruit teachers and retain those who are leaving due to low pay.

The school board unanimously voted for Ayres to schedule a workshop in January where they will further discuss a tax referendum proposed for the November 2024 ballot.

The referendum proposes a one-millage increase in property taxes for the next four years, translating to an additional $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. The referendum would secure a projected $146 million annually to increase compensation for instructional positions (teachers, counselors, media specialists, etc.), bus drivers and transportation assistants, classroom assistants and other non-instructional support staff.

However, the referendum did not pass when former superintendent Addison Davis initially proposed it in August 2022.

Davis, 47, was hired in 2020 to replace Jeff Eakins, a longtime Hillsborough County educator who served five years as superintendent and then retired. He had just started his new job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. During his first week, the state ordered the closure of all schools. As a result, Davis was compelled to shift his focus from executing his business plan, “Accelerate Hillsborough,” to leading the transition to distance learning.

Davis’ job was in jeopardy when school principals complained about his management style in an anonymous survey submitted to the board. 

Danielle Weigand, a full-release teacher at Shields Middle School, says she was hesitant to vote on the initially proposed referendum because the district lacked a clear plan for how the tax money would fund teacher salaries.

“As a teacher, I voted against it [the referendum],” Weigand said. “Addison Davis had misappropriated so much money in his term since 2020 that there was no trust between teachers and district leadership.”

Weigand is optimistic about the upcoming referendum’s chances if Ayers can quickly approve new contracts.

“I’d like to see what the budget looks like going into next year because that’s not going to be voted on until November and the teacher contract comes up again in August,” Weigand said. “I think the faster he can ratify that teacher contract and keep teachers on his side, the better.”

Staff across the Hillsborough County School District have noticed that Ayers has been successful in improving the reputation of leadership so far.

Henry Washington Jr., AP across the county, values Ayers’ approach and connection to the district.

“He’s homegrown and he gets it. He’s not trying to use his platform to be governor like we all felt that the old superintendent was doing,” Washington said.

Educators in Hillsborough County Public Schools are optimistic about the appointment of the new superintendent, feeling that the county is heading in the right direction. After experiencing misuse of power from previous leadership, some teachers feel they are in desperate need of support from a leader they trust. Ayers is determined to increase pay, and his reputation will depend on following through with the proposed tax referendum.