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    Green is color of this morale boost

    The pay of 6,000 school support employees in Pinellas will rise to meet national averages.

    By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 6, 2003


    Bob George, the head plant operator at Carwise Middle School in Palm Harbor, thought he might have to take on a part-time job. With increases in his homeowners and auto insurance, he was having a hard time making ends meet.

    But George won't have to put in extra hours at another job. He and the majority of the Pinellas County school district's 7,500 support employees soon will get raises -- at a cost of almost $15-million by the end of next school year.

    At a workshop last week, the School Board approved the raises to bring support staff salaries in line with national averages. They will take effect March 1 and cost about $3.7-million this school year, which only has a few months left.

    The increases are covered in this year's budget, and will not be depleted by the $7.3-million budget shortfall, said district spokesman Ron Stone.

    "It's going to be good for the school system," Stone said. "It's kind of a leveling process that gets us where we should be, so we know we're competitive when we recruit positions out there."

    The raises will benefit about 6,000 employees, ranging from part-time food service workers to executive administrators. Some will see raises of up to several thousand dollars. But almost half the administrators will get no increase because their salaries are where they should be, Stone said.

    School Board member Mary Russell pushed to get the raises implemented quickly because support employees play an important role in students' lives, she said.

    "We want to make sure we keep good-quality people in our schools, and to do that, we need to webfeed The raises will also draw more competent workers to Pinellas, said George, whose crew at Carwise reaped the benefits of the increases.

    "It's getting harder and harder to get good help. Once they raise the scales, we're going to get higher-quality people," George said.

    The raises were recommended by consultant Arthur Andersen in a study released in March 2001. The report compared salaries of clerks, drivers, food service workers and other support staffers with state, regional and national positions. Pinellas salaries were lower than average in several categories. As a result, the district plans to boost starting salaries for several entry-level support employees and compensate others for years of service.

    "It is time they brought our salaries up to the outside world," said Shore Acres Elementary secretary/bookkeeper Linda Anello, who was named Pinellas County Support Employee of the Year on Friday.

    "People have no idea what's involved with work in the schools, but the kids benefit when we all benefit."

    -- Lorri Helfand can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or at lorri@sptimes.com .

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