Friday, September 21, 2018

Pasco teachers union calls for tax referendum to fund pay raises

The president of Pasco County's school employees union is calling for a  referendum in which voters can decide whether to increase local property taxes so teachers and staff can get raises.

"USEP feels that the burden for coming up with additional dollars for the legislative shortfall  should be presented to the voters in the form of a ballot initiative, a referendum, to augment the general revenue, rather than to place this burden on the backs of a portion of our teachers," Peace said Thursday in a six-minute video responding to the district's conceptual plan of lengthening teacher work days in exchange for more money.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has suggested one possible way to improve teacher pay is to extend the work day by 30 minutes. Middle and high school teachers would teach an additional period per day.

That move, Browning said, would allow the district to reduce its staffing, freeing up millions of dollars it could put into wages for those who remain. He anticipated that teachers whose jobs are eliminated in the move would be absorbed into other positions.

Browning sent a video explanation of the idea — which would require collective bargaining approval with USEP — to all teachers, along with a request for input.

Related coverage: Pasco district officials seek more input on pay plan adjustments 

Peace's video, emailed to all district employees, came a day later.

In his comments, Peace made clear his organization's disdain for the "6 of 7 plan," which district officials have likened to the Hillsborough County school district's work model.

"Trying to be creative is appreciated," Peace said. "But this plan would essentially require more work, and more work time, for a disproportional salary adjustment. And therefore we believe it is not a salary increase."

He continued to note places where the district's comparison to Hillsborough are not entirely accurate. Yes, he said, Hillsborough teachers do work eight-hour days.

But Hillsborough high school teachers actually work six of eight class periods, not six of seven, Peace said. They still get a full 50-minute planning period and a lunch break during the regular student day, he noted, where Pasco's concept would move planning time to before or after classes.

Beyond such discrepancies, Peace went on, the USEP continues to believe that money exists in the district budget for "real raises" this year.

"Do you really feel this new idea is an improvement in your work life? We believe all it is really paying you for is additional work time. That's not a true salary increase," he said.

School Board members have said it's their priority to provide raises, to keep the district competitive with its neighbors. During budget deliberations, they asked the administration to come up with ideas to cut other spending areas in order to put more money into salaries.

Related coverage: Pasco School Board members to look for ways to pay employees more 

But at a workshop on the subject, the board did not accept a single idea, and instead decided to wait to see how much money is available through funds rolled over from 2017-18 and from state revenue because of unanticipated enrollment growth.

The sides have not held negotiations since.

The board's final budget hearing and budget adoption, meanwhile, are scheduled for Tuesday evening. The USEP is urging employees to again attend the session, to make a stand for improved teacher pay.

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