Special magistrate sides with Pasco County school district over teacher pay, contract terms
A special magistrate assigned to mediate a breakdown in contract talks between Pasco County teachers and the school district has taken the district's side in the two primary areas of annual contract guarantees and raise proposals.
The magistrate recommended against the United School Employees of Pasco's longstanding effort to require the district to rehire any teacher on an annual contract who earned an evaluation rating of "effective" or better.
"USEP has stated that is is seeking to prohibit annual contract non-renewal when done for arbitrary reasons ... But USEP's proposal does more than that. It requires the District to renew the 98% of Annual Contract teachers who qualify as Effective. The result will be that 98% of Annual Contract teachers will be terminable only for just cause," magistrate Mark Lurie wrote.
"The delicate balance being weighed is that of the student's learning experience against the teacher's job security. Such managerial discretion can be subject to abuse. ... The Special Magistrate concludes, nonetheless, that the answer to the potential abuse of managerial discretion is not to contractually preempt management from exercising that discretion in the first place. ... The Special Magistrate recommends against adoption of the Union's proposal."
Lurie's recommendation comes as state lawmakers are considering barring districts from offering any contractual guarantees to extend an annual contract. Pasco County district officials have lobbied in favor of the measure, while other districts which use the strategy to retain employees have pushed against it. The bill, which already has passed the House, was temporarily postponed in the Senate Government Operations Committee on Monday.
Lurie also favored the district's position on salaries. The district has offered a raise of 2.7 percent, while the USEP has asked for 3.35 percent, suggesting the district is holding back available funds.
Lurie acknowledged that Pasco County teachers are not paid similarly to their counterparts in surrounding districts. If that were the sole determinant, he wrote, he would recommend the union's request.
"Persuasive evidence has been presented to show that the District will run a General Operating Fund deficit in 2016-17 and that its Unassigned Fund Balance will have to be reduced below 5% in order to even fund the District's proposed 2.7% salary increase," he observed. "A 2.7% increase will fall short of achieving salary comparability for the teachers of Pasco County, but the Special Magistrate finds that the funds with which to pay any greater will not be available during FY 2016-17 without further invading the UFB and likely risking the District's credit rating and future cost of debt financing, a consequence that will perpetuate the funds availability problem in future years."
A separate magistrate recommended higher raises for school related employees earlier this month.
In other matters, primarily relating to language over leaves of absence, Lurie largely sided with the district, as well. He did agree with the USEP that the district should not change its rules on extended unpaid leaves of absence, though. He also backed the USEP's proposal to provide a $450 supplement to elementary school yearbook advisers.
Representatives from the district and union were scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss the contracts. If the sides cannot agree on the magistrate's recommendations, the School Board would be left to rule on the contract terms.
UPDATE: The union and district teams canceled their Tuesday meeting, and rescheduled it for Wednesday.
The USEP declared negotiations had arrived at an impasse in November 2016. The sides reached agreement on a few issues since then, but left most of the key points for the magistrate to consider.