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Contract talks start with school district
The union seeks higher salaries for teachers and other employees.
By CARRIE RITCHIE
Published June 25, 2007
United School Employees of Pasco will go to the bargaining table today, seeking to negotiate higher salaries from the Pasco school system.
Lynne Webb, the union president, said salaries will be the biggest item on the table for both teachers and school-related employees.
"A lot of people feel like they're getting farther behind with cost of living, " she said.
Union and school officials will continue to meet up to four times a week after the July Fourth holiday until contract terms have been set, and Webb said the "hard bargaining" won't start till July, when they'll have information about benefit increases.
The negotiations are open to the public.
Last year, Pasco teachers had the second-highest starting salaries in the bay area. The district raised the starting salary to $35, 300, which put them just behind Pinellas teachers, who started at $36, 000.
Though she wouldn't discuss the details of their current demands, she said teachers' salaries increased 6.25 percent last year. School-related professionals got an 8 percent raise.
Webb said it's important to keep salaries competitive since Pasco is known as a "commuter" county. She said the county is constantly competing with Pinellas and Hillsborough for quality employees.
"There's definitely a drive on the union's part to keep salaries at or above surrounding counties so we can attract and retain employees, " she said.
Terry Rhum, the district's chief negotiator, said that salary is always an important issue.
"The board always tries to do the best it can do in compensating teachers, " he said.
In addition, the district will try to work with the union to determine how to allot the $3.6-million the state gave Pasco for the Merit Award Program. The program is designed to give certain teachers raises based mainly on student performance. The minimum bonus is 5 percent of the average teaching salary, which is around $40, 000. With these numbers, about 25 to 30 percent of Pasco's teachers could receive the bonuses, Rhum said.
Webb said there's still uncertainty about how funding will be affected by property taxes. And the union is nervous because that could affect their salaries for years to come.
"It's not like we can go out and sell more product, " she said.
Webb and Rhum said their goal is to have negotiations settled by the time the teachers come back in August.