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Teachers, district to begin contract talks

One official says Pasco can't afford pay raises as large as those that Pinellas and Hillsborough teachers will get.

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- With lawmakers pumping an additional $868-million into next year's state budget for public schools, legislators around the state have told teachers they can look forward to substantial raises next year.

Teachers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties already won average pay raises of 8 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively. And with the Pasco County School District getting a 9-percent bump in state and local revenues next year, the district is under pressure from its employees to come up with an increase similar to neighboring counties'.

"I don't think there's any way we could do it," Chief Financial Officer Chuck Rushe said Tuesday.

The district and the union are scheduled to begin negotiating a new contract this morning. Union president Lynne Webb already told the School Board that Pasco must keep pace with its bigger neighbors if the district expects to compete against them in recruiting teachers. In fact, when 42 administrators head to a huge teacher job fair in Orlando next week, they'll be luring potential teachers with old salary schedules, while many of their biggest competitors will have in hand contracts with the new raises already included.

Webb said the district has more money for raises than it is letting on. It's all part of the pre-talk posturing between employees and management, she said.

"That's their typical opening stance," Webb said. "I've never heard a chief financial officer come out and say, "We've got a ton of money and we can't wait to give it away.' "

An entry-level teacher in Pasco County made $26,700 this year. First-year teachers in Pinellas will make $29,800 next year; in Hillsborough they will make $30,000.

Rushe said those figures for neighboring districts are misleading, however.

For example, Hillsborough collapsed the first seven years of its salary schedule, meaning teachers won't get a regularly-scheduled pay increase until their eighth year with the district. Pasco, on the other hand, includes annual salary bumps in its contract.

Hillsborough teachers also are required to work a week longer than Pasco teachers, and that gives them an extra paycheck each year. Pinellas teachers also work more days than Pasco educators.

In Pinellas, new teaching recruits will receive a one-time $1,000 signing bonus bumping up their salaries close to those in Hillsborough. When Pinellas officials estimated their average pay raises, they lumped that bonus money into their calculations, which inflated the overall average increase, Rushe said.

Pasco will get an additional $19.8-million from the state and local tax rolls next year. About a third of that -- $6.5-million -- will immediately have to pay for the estimated 350 new teachers the district must hire as it prepares to open three new schools this August.

That leaves roughly $13.3-million to pay for all the district's new programs and pay raises. But the state mandates how much of that money can be spent, Rushe said. For example, $1.5-million of it must be spent on teacher recruitment; another $212,000 has been earmarked for transportation.

"The state dictates how that money must be spent," he said.

Throw in an estimated $4-million shortfall in the district's special education budget this year that must be replenished, and Rushe said he doesn't see how the district can match an 8-percent pay raise for teachers.

Webb acknowledged that asking for an 8-percent raise like Hillsborough's might be asking a lot of the district, but she believes there is enough money available for "decent raises."

"If the district wants to remain competitive, then they will have to make this a priority," she said.

- Staff writer Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is kfischer@sptimes.com.

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