WESLEY CHAPEL — Enid Caropreso got the letter from the Pasco school district shortly after returning to work last week.
Her already meager salary of $9.05 per hour as a media technology specialist at Wiregrass Ranch High School would be cut by 25 cents.
Caropreso, an active school volunteer before taking the job in April 2008, had been placed on the salary schedule as if annual step increases would be awarded for 2008-09. When contract negotiations ended, though, the steps didn't come.
So while Caropreso wouldn't have to repay the district for this oversight, she wouldn't be allowed to keep getting the higher rate of pay, either.
"I was shocked, and then I was angry," said Caropreso, who quickly found a better paying job managing a chiropractor's office. She starts Monday. "I spent 20 years in banking. You don't get pay cuts, but maybe you don't get raises for a couple of years. … To come to the school and get a pay cut just floored me."
She and about 450 other Pasco school employees all got the same letter.
Employee relations director Terry Rhum said the situation was one the district did not anticipate.
Contract negotiations for 2008-09 ran long, he recalled, and schools continued to hire teachers and other staff members. As they took the jobs, the district gave them credit for their years of past experience and paid them accordingly.
A teacher with three years in the classroom, for instance, started at Level 4 on the salary schedule.
"They were placed correctly," Rhum said. "But when we changed the salary schedule, they were on the wrong step. … The intent was for everybody's salary to stay the same."
So, for instance, a third-year teacher would go to Level 3, not Level 4.
For teachers, the difference ranged from $350 to $1,000 for the year. For non-instructional workers, the amount was less.
"Instead of impacting those people, we agreed to let them stay on that step because that is what they expected when they were hired," Rhum said. "This year, we readjusted them back to where they should be."
The United School Employees of Pasco accepted that deal as a fair middle ground.
"They really received a benefit that nobody else in Pasco received," USEP president Lynne Webb said. "They might not like it, but they at least seem to understand."
She said the union continues to fight for step increases and raises this year, but has yet to make headway in contract talks. Webb met with superintendent Heather Fiorentino and other district officials Monday to review where the money is (and isn't), and what employees might expect.
Fiorentino said after that meeting she did not want to recommend spending nonrecurring revenue, such as cash from the federal stimulus package, on repeating expenses such as pay hikes. The fact that health insurance premiums — another recurring expense — appear likely to rise by 20 percent makes available resources even more scarce.
At the same time, Fiorentino said, she wants to find some way to help employees who otherwise face a second straight year without any added pay.
Webb questioned the superintendent's take on the budget, suggesting that the district has enough money to offer the steps.
"Her vibes and my vibes aren't jibing," Webb said. "I did see obviously more of a sense this year than last year the desire to do something. Whether we can agree on what that something is remains to be seen."
In the meantime, Rhum said, the district is trying to avoid a situation similar to the one that saw so many people, including Caropreso, get the wrong pay. This year, as employees are hired, they're being placed on the salary schedule as if steps are not being granted.
If the sides reach a deal that changes the schedule, that's when everyone will get a raise.
"People upon hire are being notified their salary is subject to whatever the negotiated contract agreement will be," he said.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume Thursday.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.