Pasco school employees union seeks more money, 'equitable' raises
Hoping to still influence 2016-17 pay rates, representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco met with school district finance officials Friday to learn more about just how much money might be available for salaries.
They came away with the view that the School Board might be able to dip into its unassigned general fund balances, which the board religiously has kept at 5 percent, to bolster employee pay beyond the currently budgeted average 3.5 percent, including benefits. State law requires the balance not fall below 3 percent.
"The district believes 5 percent or better is healthy," said Jim Ciadella, USEP director of operations. "We believe it would be appropriate to put some of those dollars in employees' hands."
He noted that the district annually has what it calls "roll forwards" -- budgeted but unspent money -- in the millions of dollars. This year, the amount is about $3.2 million.
"We kind of look at that as a recurring fund," Ciadella said, suggesting it could support higher annual raises if the board would be willing to have a slightly smaller unassigned fund balance.
With that money, USEP president Kenny Blankenship said, the union would recommend offering higher raises to the employees who earn the least in comparison to the statewide average of their peers. State data for 2015-16 indicate that Pasco school-related employees make about 84 percent of the average wage, while teachers earn 89 percent of the state average.
By comparison, Pasco's deputy superintendent was paid 97 percent of the state average for that position.
"We do believe the money that is available should be used to address some of these inequities," Ciadella said.
Business representative Val Smith, who leads teacher contract negotiations, stressed that USEP is not looking to give larger raises to some workers at the expense of not giving raises to others.
"Nobody wants to see that," she said. "But maybe 3 percent for everyone isn't the fair and right thing to do."
Contract negotiations have not taken place in a couple of weeks, and now the union representatives are suggesting that money talks might not be prudent until September. That will give them a chance to see how much money the district really has available, they said, after the filing of its annual financial report.
"We want to see our bargaining unit members receive salary increases as soon as possible," Smith said. "But we want to make sure it's done right."
That includes issues beyond money, Blankenship added. Other issues remain on the table, such as continuing contracts for teachers with "effective" or better evaluations, and work conditions for teachers at schools implementing turnaround plans.
No next date for negotiations has been set.