Pasco school employees ask for raises, not one-time supplements

Delly Bezoss

LAND O’ LAKES — Pasco County school district teachers and support employees want raises.

During contract talks Monday, United School Employees of Pasco representatives made clear that the district’s offer of one-time supplements of 4 percent didn’t meet their needs.

Instead, they asked to move the money around so that the supplements are smaller and the pay increases, which would continue in future years, would be added to the mix.

“This is important for competing with surrounding counties, important for morale, and we just think it’s the right thing to do,” said Jeff Larsen, the union’s lead negotiator for instructional staff.

He contended a 1 percent supplement and a raise of at least 3 percent for teachers who won’t reach that level with state-funded increases would cost the same amount as the district’s plan. If the concern is about paying the amount in future years, Larsen said, the state already has adopted an education budget that increases uncommitted per-student funding by 4.9 percent and expanded the amount available for teacher pay, while the district has millions coming from federal coronavirus relief funds.

“I think the money is there,” he said.

Lynn Cavall, his counterpart leading talks on the support personnel contract, made similar arguments in asking for a 4.25 percent raise for all workers except bus drivers, who would get a 7 percent raise under the proposal.

The district has struggled all year to recruit and retain bus drivers, resulting in steps like changing school start times midyear and making plans to cut routes this fall. Several people have suggested that Pasco’s driver pay, which is below that of surrounding counties, is a key factor.

“I believe that 7 percent would take us a little closer … to what some of the surrounding counties are offering,” Cavall said, noting the state law increasing the minimum wage to $15 in October will force the issue soon anyway.

District officials said they shared the desire to provide higher pay to everyone. That was the goal until the district ran into budget shortfalls related to coronavirus insurance claims and the state’s expansion of programs that use public money to pay private school tuition.

That left the district unable to fund ongoing raises, said Nora Light, who leads teacher contract talks for the district.

Light told the union the only funds available were “nonrecurring,” meaning they could be spent this year only and couldn’t be relied on year after year, as the union suggested. “The idea that we could take nonrecurring funds and use them in a recurring manner is just impossible,” she said.

Tom Neesham, leading the noninstructional contract talks for the district, called such a move fiscally irresponsible. The district will not commit to spending money it does not have, he said, even if the financial picture emerging from Tallahassee appears encouraging.

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Even so, Neesham and Light told the union representatives they would bring the proposal to the superintendent’s staff on Tuesday. They tentatively scheduled another round of bargaining for Thursday.

Pasco is the last district in the Tampa Bay area to not have a settled employee contract. Hillsborough County completed negotiations in February. The Pinellas County School Board is scheduled to ratify its teacher contract Tuesday morning.

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