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Column

Teachers need better pay, not housing help

By ANDREW SKERRITT, Times Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007


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You can't fault Heather Fiorentino for trying.

The Pasco school superintendent suggested developing affordable housing for district employees as a way to attract and keep quality staff. It involves applying for a $5-million state grant that would support construction of 50 homes for school district employees who meet the income requirements.

It begs the question: How about paying teachers and school employees enough so they wouldn't have to qualify for such welfare?

"We have folks who have bachelor's and master's degrees who are not earning salaries comparative with other folks with those qualifications," said Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, which represents teachers, bus drivers and other school-related employees.

On Thursday, members were voting whether to ratify a "bittersweet" contract that gave them small raises.

Fiorentino's proposal highlights what needs to change, Webb said. "Our school employees aren't paid well enough to be able to afford what regular, mainstream Americans can afford."

Under the proposed contract, a starting teacher in Pasco with a bachelor's degree will earn $36,420 a year, while someone starting out with a master's degree makes $39,120 annually.

Since banks typically require that a mortgage be no more than 2.5 times a borrower's income, someone making less than $50,000 would be hard pressed to afford a decent house.

And the present proposal won't change that.

For starters, the district would donate 4 acres near Marlowe Elementary in New Port Richey to secure the state housing grant. There was no talk of down payment assistance - a major obstacle for those trying to buy their first house.

Under Fiorentino's proposal, employees would buy the house, while the district retained ownership of the land. For some employees, that sounds too much like living in a company town or worse - public housing. That is not Fiorentino's intention, but that really doesn't matter.

We often extol the virtues of a quality public education but don't seem to value the efforts and expertise of those who provide it. They shouldn't have to take a second job or depend on a spouse or some kind of subsidized housing.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at askerritt@sptimes.com or 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.

[Last modified December 6, 2007, 21:00:08]


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