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Teacher pay still uncertain
Representatives for teachers and support employees press the district to take some action.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 9, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - It's three months into the new school year, and Pasco County teachers and support employees still don't know how much money they'll be making.
It's the latest in recent memory that the school district employees have gone without a contract settlement, and to say they're dismayed would be an understatement.
"We went to the School Board on Tuesday. We mentioned the need to proceed earnestly and urgently," United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb said Thursday. "They know it is a top priority for us. I am disappointed they are not coming to the table ready to talk money."
To push the process, the union has put forth a salary proposal of its own. It includes a request for a one-time bonus, totaling $7.5-million, that Webb said would show employees "how much (the district) appreciates them" - especially for having to wait so long to reach a pay deal.
Overall, the union is asking for about 10 percent for teachers, including that one-time bonus, raises and salary step increases for years of service. It wants about 14 percent for the support staff, with the same breakdown as for the teachers.
All have been receiving their step increases since the beginning of the year.
The School Board has met behind closed doors twice this week to talk about employee pay. But the district administration has yet to make a counter-offer to the union's proposal, though superintendent Heather Fiorentino has said the requested large increases seem a stretch in this tight budget year.
Chief administration negotiator Terry Rhum offered slim hope that the employees' request would win approval.
"We're working on that, still massaging the figures and seeing what we can do," Rhum said. "We can't do anything premature until we know what we can afford to do."
Webb pointed out that surrounding districts, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, already have reached accords, and that state lawmakers finished cutting the budget nearly a month ago. Meanwhile, the holidays are fast approaching, as are increases in the district's health insurance premiums.
She said the employees deserve to get their full pay in time to deal with those expenses.
She did not, however, expect that the initial proposal would be the final outcome.
"If we ever agreed on the first time through, then I'd know we asked for too little," Webb said.
Besides money, just one other item remains outstanding in the contracts. The district wants to institute a "reasonable suspicion" drug testing program for employees.
The issue came up when some employees were suspected of being intoxicated on school grounds and refused to submit to testing. The current contract does not require them to do so.
The employee representatives proposed taking this topic up separately from the full contract, with the goal of reaching agreement on a plan to implement next year. District officials so far have rejected that approach.
Rhum said he was "optimistic that within the next couple of weeks we will come to closure."
Webb said she certainly hoped so.
The support employees were scheduled to head back to the table late Thursday. The next round of teacher contract talks has not been set.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.