Can Pasco compete?
As they protested for raises Tuesday, several Pasco teachers suggested that the district could fall further behind its neighbors in hiring educators if it doesn't keep up financially.
"We will not be able to afford the best and brightest," Rushe Middle geography teacher David Holmes told the Gradebook before heading to the picket line. "We're going to need high quality teachers and support personnel."
With no raise, a brand new teacher with a bachelor's degree would earn $36,420 in Pasco. In neighboring Hillsborough, that same person would make $37,014, and that's before a proposed 2 percent raise. Pinellas pays new teachers $37,300. Hernando, where rookies make just $34,000, has offered 5 percent raises. The salary schedules increase from there.
This year, the district had no trouble finding qualified applicants. Principals reported receiving dozens, if not hundreds, of applications for each teacher opening. Yet the concern remained among many teachers that once the economy rebounds, it will take too long for Pasco to catch up with its competitors.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino told the Gradebook that she and the board wished they could provide raises this year. But the money simply isn't there. She sent the following e-mail to employees this week to explain:
I have recently received emails expressing heartfelt concern about the difficult economic times facing our state and nation, and its negative impact on employees. I do understand these very real concerns and appreciate the integral role each of you play in our District.
Since I do recognize your immeasurable value, I have done my best since coming to office to provide record increases for ALL employees. I was able to provide the healthy increases combined with step increases in recent years because the resources were available to do so. Please be assured, I would like nothing more than to be able to do that again this year.
However, we have received such dramatic reductions in our revenue this year that I cannot recommend an increase in salaries. In order to balance the 2008/2009 budget, we must reduce expenditures by $16 million dollars. Additionally, we have been told our budget will be cut again in December and that next year’s state budget will likely provide even less funding than we received this year. We are required by law to have a balanced budget and there are specific categories of funding (for example construction costs) that can only legally be used for specialized purposes. I cannot transfer those funds to operating costs (salaries).
It is also important to understand that we have implemented many significant cost-saving strategies just to cover our current budget. I have always said that my main objectives are to prioritize classroom spending, maintain the employee benefits package and try to avoid lay-offs.
I understand that the difficult economic times are personally impacting all of our employees. With food, gas, insurance and the day-to-day costs of living increasing, the economy is impacting your families. I am sensitive to your needs and I am trying to protect the jobs of all employees. Given our budget, I honestly believe these objectives and my current recommendations are in the best interest of our students, employees and community.
Again, I appreciate your service and your willingness to share your concerns with me. It is my hope that our financial situation will improve in the future and that we will be able to continue working towards improved compensation and reward your hard work. We look forward to working with the union on these matters through the negotiation process. If you have any questions or would like more details about any of the information I have provided, please do not hesitate to contact me.
While it soothed some employees, it rankled many others, who said they wanted to see actions, not hear words. The teachers and administration head back to the negotiating table today, but Fiorentino has indicated the district is not yet ready to respond to the union's salary proposal.