Pasco teachers react to talk of extending work day and increasing pay

Published August 28 2018

Even as they began circulating details of their plan to extend teacher work days as a way to increase pay, Pasco County school district officials continued to research how unusual their idea might be.

Through the state superintendent’s association, of which Pasco leader Kurt Browning is president-elect, the district sent a survey to all 66 other counties asking eight questions. They included the length of teachers’ contracted work days, the number of periods teachers instruct daily, and the length of teacher lunch breaks.

Browning has said Pasco is looking to follow the lead of Hillsborough County and others, where some teachers say they are moving to take advantage of higher salaries. School Board members and United School Employees of Pasco officials leaders have asked for more information.

Teachers began registering their views on the proposal shortly after they learned about it.

The initial rush on social media was mostly negative. After Browning sent an explanation to teachers, a more mixed response started to emerge.

Middle school English teacher Rachel Morris told the superintendent via email that the idea was "absurd," and that requiring teachers to work more for a raise "is not a raise."

Middle school art teacher John Vento, by contrast, called the possibility of more money "exciting," not to mention overdue.

"Last May we lost our home because we simply could not afford to keep up with rising costs," he wrote. "Unfortunately, this has become too common with Pasco teachers. Staying positive as well as staying in Pasco is a challenge for me right now. I love what our school system does for our students, and that’s what I hold on to every day."

High school U.S. history teacher Constance Hines, who recently returned to Pasco schools after an unsatisfactory stint in Hillsborough, said she was "110 percent in support" of the idea.

"Year after year, we lose great teachers to Hillsborough due to their higher salary," Hines wrote to Browning. "I applaud your efforts to help end this trend."

Middle school math teacher Dawn Chiarenza suggested a middle ground approach might win more converts.

"As a newer teacher, I can assure you, teaching another class would force me to leave Pasco County," Chiarenza told Browning in an email. "If your proposal could make it more of an option for teachers, I believe more faculty would embrace this proposal."

The School Board has made no commitments on the concept. It plans to have another discussion about it in late September or early October.

STUDENT COUNT: Employee raises for the newly started school year could be largely dependent on enrollment growth in district schools.

So far, the numbers are swinging upward by more than initial state projections.

When planning the 2018-19 budget, lawmakers estimated Pasco schools would see an additional 1,001 students. After the tenth day of classes, the district planning department reported have 1,888 more students enrolled than on the same day a year earlier.

The number of students who attend charter schools will make a difference in the financial outcome. Charter schools receive the state per-student funding for children who enter there.

The latest report showed 997 of the 1,888 students, or just more than half, entering charters.

Officials said they plan to take another count on Sept. 11, with the state’s formal count coming four weeks later.

SUMMER CAMPS: To prevent the "summer slide" and keep kids involved, the Pasco school district may create new fee-based specialty camps.

It has asked parents to help inform the types of sports, activities and interest areas it should offer. To do so, it launched an online "thought exchange" for families to offer ideas and rate others.

"The more thoughts you rate, the clearer the priorities are for our program," director Mary Grey said in an introductory video.

In its first days, the survey received hundreds of recommendations, including life skills classes, elective courses for credit, hands-on science projects and cooking classes.

"Anything other than test prep and academics," one parent wrote. "The kids are being crushed with the standardized test prep and boring curriculum in all the grade levels during the year. Let them have fun."

Grey said the goal is to come up with programs for students of all ages. They’ll likely run two to four weeks, and could differ by part of the county, depending on responses.

"We have our PLACE programs, and we actually call it Camp WOW because we want kids to feel it has a more camp-like atmosphere. But they come all summer for child care," she explained. "We’re looking at other options for families who do not need specifically child care... on a daily basis. We’re just looking to find other ways for kids to be engaged over the summer."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.