Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Hernando school board denies raises to 260 non-teaching workers

BROOKSVILLE — Citing dire financial straits, the Hernando School Board on Tuesday shot down about $93,000 worth of raises for more than 260 district employees not represented by unions.

The raise would have given one-half of a "step" increase — a bump in the pay scale based on one year of experience — to workers in three categories comprised of a wide array of job titles and salaries.

"Given the state of our budget, we cannot afford this," vice chairman Matt Foreman said before the first of the three separate votes on each employee category. "Any item which is not budgeted for and which would increase our expenditures is foolish."

The decision not to give those staffers a raise creates a disparity among the district's roughly 2,900 full-time employees.

Later in the meeting, the board gave formal approval to a deal it made several months ago to give the 1,680 members of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association a half-step increase. That cost the district $888,294.

The roughly 1,100 non-instructional employees represented by the Hernando United School Workers received a full step increase because that union opted not to bargain to protect employees. Forty-seven bus drivers were subsequently laid off. The raise cost the district about $487,000.

It has been standard practice for the board, once an agreement is reached with unionized workers, to consider whether to offer similar compensation the non-union staffers.

That's why the half-step raises for non-union workers came to the board Tuesday night.

These employees range from cafeteria workers to high-level district staffers paid as much as $97,000.

Board member Dianne Bonfield supported an increase for one category of this group, so-called confidential employees. Those 67 workers, including secretaries and bookkeepers, have access to student or employee records and their pay ranges from $19,000 to $42,000.

"These folks are, in my estimation, our lower-paid employees, so I can justify giving them, at this point in time, an increase," Bonfield said.

Chairwoman Cynthia Moore joined Bonfield in voting for the increase for that category. Foreman and members James Yant and John Sweeney voted no.

"If we're going to deny, we should deny all three (categories)," Sweeney said. "I don't want to start this precedent of every group getting different treatment."

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt also said he couldn't recommend that the board dole out raises that hadn't already been included in the budget.

The board was unanimous in its opposition of raises for the other two categories of non-union employees.

The raises would have helped district workers who recently took a hit on a few different fronts. The state is now requiring workers to contribute 3 percent to its retirement fund, Hernando employees' health care contributions increased, and they lost two paid holidays this year.

The district's shrinking rainy day fund, which is in danger of slipping below recommended levels, weighed heavily on board members' minds, however.

Being frugal with purse strings now could save jobs later, Yant said.

"I would like to see everyone get a raise, but on the other hand we have the responsibility to protect as many people as we can," he said.

The board members themselves got a slight salary increase this year.

School boards' maximum salaries are set by the state, and Hernando board members' salary increased by $263, to $33,180. Individual board members can elect to have their salaries reduced, however, or they can make donations to offset the bump.

The Times learned Wednesday that Foreman, upon his appointment in September by Gov. Rick Scott, asked that 10 percent of his salary be deducted and revert back to the district's general fund.

"I knew the district and schools are having a tough time financially, and I don't think it's appropriate to come in and ask other people to take cuts unless you're willing to stand with them," Foreman said.

Since his election in 2008, Yant has donated $304 each month to the Hernando Education Foundation to be used for teacher mini-grants and to help homeless students.

Elected in 2010, Moore said she gave monetary donations to every one of the district's schools last school year. This year, in addition to a donation to Endeavor Academy, Moore opted to give directly to students and families by purchasing clothes and paying for activity fees, medical exams, and electric bills. She declined to offer an estimate of the total amount of the donations.

Bonfield noted that she has given time as a volunteer, but has hesitated to give money back to the general fund because she has issues with how some of that money is spent.

"I think that would be rather hypocritical on my part," she said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

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