Pasco contract negotiations kick off with glum money talk
Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her staff spent about 90 minutes talking budget with the United School Employees of Pasco negotiating team today. We'll just cut to the chase.
The district is talking furloughs and reduced benefits. Not raises.
Fiorentino painted a picture of rising costs and shrinking revenue. She noted that her estimate of a $28 million shortfall comes before taking into consideration state income lost because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, among other likely midyear cuts.
"It's going to be a long summer of negotiating," she told the USEP, telling members the district would work with them to mitigate the pain as much as possible.
USEP president Lynne Webb acknowledged that times are tough.
"I think a big part of negotiations, not only for Pasco, will be trying not to lose what we already have," Webb said.
The union will work to protect benefits and jobs, she said. But that might mean some uncomfortable compromises, such as furloughs and higher taxes. The USEP, along with Fiorentino, has asked the School Board to increase the local property tax rate by 0.25 mills to raise about $6 million in operating funds.
"They are seeing the same numbers," Webb said of board members. "They are elected to have a balanced budget and to have a quality education system. I believe this board recognizes they have to raise the 0.25."
USEP members didn't question the district's budget numbers much. They did, however, make suggestions of different ways to save money than the board has supported so far. Among those ideas were tapping into the district's $25 million reserves, which the board has rejected doing to protect its bond rating, and eliminating middle and high school sports to save about $2 million.
The board also has indicated it won't take that action.
The first round of negotiations for teachers is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The school-related employees' bargaining is set to begin next week.