Pasco school district seeks to boost teacher pay by cutting positions, increasing course loads

The ‘six-of-six’ concept didn’t win much support a year ago.
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley tells the Pasco School Board about the administration's latest plan to boost teacher salaries during a June 18, 2019, workshop. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley tells the Pasco School Board about the administration's latest plan to boost teacher salaries during a June 18, 2019, workshop. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published June 18

Hoping to make teacher salaries more competitive with surrounding school systems, the Pasco County district administration has revived a controversial proposal that would generate money by relying on fewer teachers leading more classes.

The ‘six of six’ concept would have middle and high school teachers instruct six periods daily instead of five. It would allow the district to operate with 200 fewer classroom educators, with reductions through attrition and not layoffs, assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley told the School Board on Tuesday.

That reduction would generate savings in salaries and benefits of about $15.6 million, which could be funneled into the pay of the remaining faculty, Shibley said. Combined with anticipated additional state and local funding of about $27.4 million over two years, he added, the money could translate into raises close to 12 percent over those two years.

Otherwise, superintendent Kurt Browning said, the district is struggling to find enough money to increase pay by 3 percent. That would leave Pasco near the bottom of the region and state in its pay, which could make it increasingly difficult to attract and keep employees.

Related: Pasco teachers eye new Pinellas contract with concern

“There’s no other approach that gets us the amount of recurring dollars to have that kind of impact,” Browning said.

A year ago, the superintendent suggested a similar idea and encountered immediate, fierce opposition. That plan, which never advanced past the talking stages, called for teachers to earn about $3,300 more while extending their work day by 30 minutes.

Many teachers complained that the concept was not a raise, but rather added work for added money. And even then, the extra pay did not equal the same amount that they could earn if volunteering to take an extra class period.

This time around, Browning said, “We listened to teachers from last year, heard their concerns.”

As a result, the idea of adding time to the work day is gone. The anticipated pay increase is also much larger.

Related: Six of seven ‘just one of many ideas’ to get more money to Pasco teachers, official says

The administration informed United School Employees of Pasco leadership, which must negotiate such a dramatic change, ahead of time. USEP officials were noncommittal after listening to the workshop presentation.

“We need to hear more,” union president Don Peace said. “We are open, but there have to be further conversations because there are a lot of things that haven’t been addressed.”

He mentioned the idea of teacher protected planning time as one of several “crucial” matters that would have to be hashed out.

School Board members, who have repeatedly called for higher pay, said they were glad to have the conversation started.

“I do believe this is a discussion we need to have,” vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said. “We do have limited funds and we have to do something to increase our pay. ... It’s obvious we have to do something dramatic.”

But she and others raised cautions against creating a plan that simply frustrates teachers in different ways.

An extra class means as many as 25 more students, Beaudoin noted, and all the work that goes into preparing for their classroom needs. If they do not get relief in other areas, they might not support the idea, she said.

Board member Megan Harding said she was most concerned about ensuring the teachers’ planning time is guaranteed, so they do not have to take even more work home than they already do.

Browning acknowledged that the “devil is in the details,” and most of those are far from settled. Issues up for discussion range from lunch breaks to substitute coverage to the daily class schedule itself.

Officials anticipated some pushback. But they planned to continue seeking input as they seek to resolve their ongoing salary concerns.

" I remain optimistic that there’s a way to do it," Shibley said, “that everyone will be okay with.”

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

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