District support staff okays contract
By JENNIFER LIBERTO
School support staffers voted overwhelmingly to approve their contract with the School Board, which included pay raise.
Workers voted 202 to 3 to accept an experience-based step increase as well as 25 cents more per hour, in a contract negotiated by the School Board and the Hernando United School Workers union (HUSW) two weeks ago.
"It's outstanding," said HUSW president George Sullivan, a retired bus driver who was somewhat surprised by the 199-vote margin.
The vote took place at Springstead High School cafeteria from 9 a.m. to noon, with 209 workers voting. Four votes were voided.
Several workers said they thought the contract was fair.
"It's a long time coming," said Tony Puglia, a custodian at Pine Grove Elementary School.
The raise package will cost the School Board about $725,000 -- about $140,000 more than an earlier deal negotiated in July, which contained a 3.9 percent pay raise.
However, school workers wanted to renegotiate after they saw that the School Board was willing to offer higher pay raises to teachers, whose union contract is also being negotiated.
Teachers are currently at an impasse with the School Board in contract negotiations. Both sides would like about a 5.3 percent raise for teachers. But the union refused to accept the School Board's method of paying for the salary increases, which would cut classroom supply budgets and the supplemental pay teachers get for coaching, sponsoring student clubs and other extra duties.
The HUSW's 5.1 percent increase is slightly less than what was offered to teachers, and it does not require a reduction in supplemental pay. Those employees with 20 years experience or more will receive a pay increase of 30 cents per hour. The school workers' contract will pay increases in health insurance premiums and also pay teacher's aides for their 30-minute lunch break.
Teacher's aide Toni Berry said she often didn't take lunch, because she didn't have time and because she wasn't paid for it.
"Paras (paraprofessionals or teachers' aides) work just as hard as teachers," said Berry, who works at John D. Floyd Elementary School. "I don't leave until 4 p.m."
The HUSW represents more than 700 school bus drivers, custodians, teacher's aides and other support staff.
Workers can expect to see the raise in mid-October.
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