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Pasco school district makes salary counter-offer to teachers

By Jeffrey Solochek
Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco and the Pasco County school district discuss salary and benefits on Nov. 9, 2017. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]

"Ouch."

Such was United School Employees of Pasco negotiator Val Smith's reaction to the school district's pay proposal delivered Thursday evening during contract talks.

The district's offer would put an added $1.086 million toward teacher pay, $3.15 million less than the USEP asked for a week earlier. Making the proposal even tougher for the union to swallow, half of the amount would go toward one-time bonuses for educators who aren't included in the state's revised Best and Brightest program.

Behavior specialists, guidance counselors and other instructional staff who do not have assigned classes are not eligible for the state bonus of $800 or $1,200, depending on evaluation rating.

"We have always been proponents of putting money into base salary," district employee relations director Kathy Scalise said. But "it is difficult to look at 18 percent of our staff and not try to do something for them."

That's why the administration called for matching the Best and Brightest bonus for those employees, she said.

Smith said the bargaining unit would prefer adding the money into recurring pay that counts toward retirement. If the district wants to provide bonuses, she suggested, perhaps it could dip into reserves.

"That would be something the team would be very happy to entertain," she said.

Scalise responded that the district already used more than $1 million of its reserves to pay the 1,850 employees who worked during Hurricane Irma. The district also did not require anyone to make up days not worked because of the storm, she added, and no one went without pay during that time.

"We are using our reserve funds to cover that, because the projection from FEMA is five to 15 years to recover that," Scalise said.

Bottom line, the district's proposed cost of living increase would be 0.125 percent, with another small amount added into the two salary schedules, and the rest put into the bonuses.

Smith called the offer a "striking concern," and "something to think about."

"The best I can do is say we'll take it into consideration," Smith said.

The sides aim to return to the table next week to continue bargaining. Negotiations for non-instructional personnel resume on Monday.