Contract in time for holidays

School officials and the employees union reach agreement on raisesand drug and alcohol testing.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - Pasco County's school administration and employee union had a goal in mind during negotiations: Get everyone their raises, including retroactive pay, before the winter holidays.

It looks like that mission will be accomplished.

Representatives from the district and the United School Employees of Pasco hashed out the final details of their 2008 contract late Monday. They announced the deal on Tuesday.

"I'm very happy we were able to make an offer so we can get things done before the holidays," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Tuesday. "That was always the intention."

"While I am relieved we have settled the contract, because it is November, I share some of the disappointment of the employees because of the amount," union president Lynne Webb told the School Board later in the evening. "This is the first time in a long time that we have truly fallen behind, and I am concerned about that."

The average raises - 4 percent for teachers, including "step" increases for years of service, and 4.4 percent for school-related personnel - did not quite approach the bigger pay raises approved in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Union officials said on their Web site that they considered the offer "fair," though, given that Pasco does not have the same revenue sources available as the other two counties, which Pasco competes with for employees.

Fiorentino said the district made the best proposal it could afford.

"We've always given the most we could, every year," she said. "This year we're doing the same thing."

By the end, the sides had just two outstanding issues. One was the economic side, which the union was pushing.

The other was an agreement to allow "reasonable suspicion" drug and alcohol testing of employees, which the district wanted. That subject came to the table after the district unsuccessfully tried to require tests of teachers suspected of being under the influence while on school grounds.

Each side compromised a bit to reach a the tentative deals.

"Bargaining is give and take," assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose said. "We wanted the reasonable suspicion. They wanted the raises. You give, and you take."

The agreements still require ratification by the School Board and the employees. The board is to vote Dec. 3. The teacher vote is scheduled for Dec. 6.

If approved, DuBose said, "we've got our human resources and payroll people on standby."

To see the agreements, visit the United School Employees of Pasco Web site at www.useponline.org.

Also Tuesday, the board named Kathryn Starkey its new chairwoman and Frank Parker its new vice chair.

Outgoing chair Marge Whaley nominated Starkey. When the vote came, Starkey smiled and asked whether it was okay for her to participate.

Told yes, she said, "Aye. Just to make it unanimous."

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino thanked Whaley, who is retiring next year, for her time leading the board.

"My privilege to serve as chair and my relief not to be chair," Whaley responded.

During the evening, Webb also told the board that the United School Employees of Pasco plans to appeal the recommended order to deny its unfair labor practices charge regarding the superintendent's memo for emergency shelter service.

The board also approved the 2008-09 school year calendar. The first day of classes will be Aug. 18, 2008, and the last day will be June 3, 2009. Winter break will be Dec. 22, 2008, through Jan. 2, 2009.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.