Schools, union discuss more pay
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE -- Representatives of Hernando County's public school system and teachers union sat down Monday to start sorting budget priorities for fiscal 2004.
The goal, they said, was to see whether the school district can rearrange its spending plan so that more money can go into salaries. Superintendent Wendy Tellone called for such discussions last fall, after watching the two sides battle over scraps in fractious negotiations.
They agreed on raises averaging 5.3 percent in November, but only after the teachers declared an impasse in talks and mediation had begun.
"I just really believe in open communication," Tellone, who did not attend the session, said on Monday. "Lay it out on the table and let everybody see everything. ... I just think we will accomplish more."
Edd Poore, the district's lead negotiator, opened the meeting by stating that many items might come up during the review that the teachers, administration or School Board might not support. But the only way to determine how much might be funneled into pay raises is to hash over every idea, he said.
"Our goal is to try to find areas where we do agree we could take the money and put it into salaries," Poore said.
Sandra LaGarde, deputy director of the Hernando teachers union, said she hoped an honest exchange of detailed information should help the parties determine what can be done. She asked the group whether they should look toward setting a five-year salary goal, based on the best indicators and trends available.
"We haven't gotten enough information to know what is realistic," LaGarde observed. "But we certainly want to keep moving."
In some instances, the teams agreed, the end result might come down to changing perceptions.
When teachers get duty-free lunch, for example, someone else gets paid to monitor the cafeteria, finance director Carol MacLeod observed. If teachers are willing to take on some of that responsibility, for one, the money spent on monitors could go into salaries, MacLeod offered.
Others offered similar tradeoffs that might be made.
"Our folks need to know what is their priority," LaGarde said.
Springstead High School teacher James Bush, a union representative, said he would go line by line through the district budget in search of opportunities to shift money. A former budget planner in South Carolina, Bush had no shortage of ideas himself, such as possibly hiring teachers of limited experience to keep salaries down.
At this early stage of the review, though, the most important thing he wanted to know from the administration was whether the district had any "sacred cows" to be avoided.
"One of the things I don't want to see this district do is cut personnel to put money into salaries," Poore responded.
Chocachatti Elementary School principal Michael Tellone, a member of the administration team, said he did not want anyone to lose sight of "what is best for the kids" as they talk terms.
On that point, everyone agreed. The sides plan to meet again on Feb. 24. MacLeod said she hoped by then to have better indications from Tallahassee what kind of revenue the district might expect next year.
-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .
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