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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco teachers, school employees to get one furlough day reimbursed

When the United School Employees of Pasco agreed to take two furlough days this school year, it also struck a bargain with the school district: If the district didn't spend as much as expected during the year, teachers and staff would get reimbursed for the unpaid days off. 

The gamble to agree rather than push toward impasse is about to pay off.

While other Florida school districts are ruling against teachers after lengthy administrative hearings, Pasco workers now stand to get repaid for one of their two mandatory unpaid days off. And they won't have to make up the work hours. June 6 or 7 (depending on job classification) remain paid holidays.

"We are honoring the commitment that we made to our employees during the MOU process at the beginning of the school year," district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli told the Gradebook.

The district is able to give back the money, which has been deducted from employees biweekly paychecks, because its health insurance expenses have come in almost $2 million below budget.

"That money is money that was truly saved by the employees," said USEP president Lynne Webb, who repeatedly reminded board members of their commitment to return the furlough money in such an event.

She acknowledged that the district has not yet found enough cash to cover the second furlough day, but added that the USEP will continue to monitor district books through the end of the fiscal year. Romagnoli also cautioned employees to remember that this reimbursement is not necessarily a signal of more good things to come.

"We do still have a significant budget shortfall for next year," she said. "This should not be construed as us saying that our budget problems are alleviated."

The contract terms still must be ratified. The vote is scheduled for May 17. Story here.

See the USEP's memo below:

USEP Convinces District to Reimburse Furlough Day Pending Ratification

After several meetings during which USEP President Lynne Webb and Chief Negotiator Jim Ciadella presented the Superintendent and District negotiators with unexpected savings in the health care budget for this year, the school board agreed to honor its negotiated commitment to reimburse employees for one furlough day instead of squirreling the money away for next year. This agreement, of course, is contingent on the contracts being ratified.

Knowing that the District was facing a shortfall of $54 million for the 2011-2012 school year, both sides came to an early agreement to implement two furlough days for teachers and SRP and three furlough days for other staff.  To minimize the impact, the cost of the furlough days was evenly distributed among paychecks.  The district eliminated one school day on December 22nd and traded the April 2nd employee paid holiday with an employee furlough day, making June 6th for most SRP and June 7th for most teachers a paid holiday. 

As part of the economic agreement, USEP insisted on keeping open the possibility of reimbursing employees for these furlough days.  The agreement required the sides meet throughout the year to identify areas of additional savings from “a variety of sources including but not limited to health insurance utilization” to determine if the furlough days could be reimbursed.  In particular, one area of the economic proposal states that, “It is not intended that savings from these furlough days be set aside to offset any anticipated shortfall for the 2012- 2013 year.”

For the last several months, USEP noticed that the health insurance costs were significantly below the budget amount.  When approximately $1.7 million of savings was confirmed, USEP approached the District leadership about using that money to reimburse employees.  The District took the request to the School Board in an Executive Session meeting.  The school board gave approval after verifying the information USEP provided and contingent upon ratification.  Without a ratified agreement, the School Board has no obligation to honor the negotiated agreement. 

USEP is working with the district on the final details.  Reimbursement checks will be made available after the end of the school year to any teacher or SRP who served two furlough days.  The reimbursement will not change having the 6th or 7th as a paid holiday for teachers and most SRP.  The bottom line is that teachers and SRP will have had their work calendars reduced for this year only and will be reimbursed for one of them.  No one will be required to make up those hours that are being reimbursed.

If the contract is not ratified, the Board will not reimburse employees, and items like fully-board paid insurance will be in jeopardy.  Even the state-mandated teacher evaluation system will need to be renegotiated, and many of the hard-fought protections could be lost.  With negotiations set to begin for next year, it is USEP’s recommendation to ratify the contract and move forward to tackling next year’s challenges.

 See also the district's memo to employees on the agreement:

The District is pleased to announce unexpected savings in health care costs this year of approximately $1.7 million.   Much of these savings were realized from employees' utilization of the Health and Wellness Centers and participation in preventative health care programs.  We appreciate the effort of those who took advantage of these innovative opportunities that provided savings to both the employee and the District.

During the negotiation process, the District and USEP agreed to monitor the District’s finances throughout the year and to return a portion of the money collected for the furlough days if the District realized unanticipated savings during the 2011-2012 school year. This language specified that upon ratification of the contract, any such savings would be returned to employees prior to being used to offset the expected funding shortfall for the 2012-2013 school year.  Therefore, in light of the health savings discussed above,  all employees will have the amount of one furlough day returned to them.   To be eligible for reimbursement, an employee must have been employed for the entire year.  Additionally,  no one will be required to make up the hours that are being reimbursed because this change will not impact the employee calendar.  If you have questions about your work calendar for the end of the school year, please contact your direct Supervisor or view your work calendar  More information regarding the timeline for distribution will be provided after contract ratification.  

It is important to note that these funds are being distributed in order to honor the commitment made to our employees through the negotiation process.  Our District is still facing a shortfall of over $25 million for the 2012-2013 school year and is continuing to seek suggestions for how the budget should be balanced.  The Board will be working on the budget over the next month, and updated information will be provided to employees as soon as possible.  As always, we will seek to minimize the impact of this shortfall on our students and staff members. 

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 4:11pm]


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