More than 700 eager new Hillsborough County teachers will head to the classroom today to begin their careers. And, chances are, they'll continue teaching for years to come.
According to Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, 95 percent of the school district's teachers returned to teach Hillsborough County students in 2012. That's up from 72 percent in 2010 and 86 percent in 2011.
But it isn't because teaching is easier or less stressful than in year past, said Elia. She attributes the high retention rate to the district's Empowering Effective Teachers initiative.
"While school districts across the nation have a problem keeping talented teachers, we've developed a program that matches peer mentors with new teachers to reduce the learning curve and help them become more successful," said Elia.
The initiative, she said, provides teachers, especially those new to the field, the support they need to succeed.
The result is a win for the teachers, students and the taxpayer, she said.
"We have saved money by not having to train new teachers each year," she said.
In addition to the mentoring program, the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative emphasizes recruiting the highest-performing teacher candidates from universities, placing teachers where they will be most effective, evaluating teachers based on student performance as well as input from peers and compensating students based on their performance.
Compensation is key in a field that is traditionally low paying, said Elia.
To that end, the district announced a tentative agreement with teachers and support employees unions that would provide eligible teachers and other employees represented by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association a one level increase on the salary schedule plus a 1 1/2 percent cost of living increase this year.
Eligible employees represented by the Hillsborough School Employees Federation, which includes most instructional support employees such as bus drivers, student nutrition services workers and maintenance workers, would receive two level increases and forgo the cost of living increase.
Hillsborough County is one of the few districts in Florida that have been able to offer employees raises since the recession. Hillsborough has been able to provide some increase each year except the 2009-10 school year.
The average base salary for teachers with less than five years of experience is $36,095 while the average base salary for teachers with more than five years of teaching experience is $45,555.
"This is a tough time, and we take our financial responsibility seriously," said Elia. "But salaries were a major priority of the school board so the board made some tough decisions and moved in a direction other school boards have not. And we've been able to do this without layoffs or forced furloughs."
Elia said this was accomplished through an ambitious five-year cost-cutting plan that began in 2007.
This year, significant savings from a reduction in employee emergency room visits were passed on from the district’s health insurer to the district, allowing for the most significant increases since 2007.