Months of heated negotiations ended Wednesday in a contract settlement for Pasco County teachers and other school employees.
The deal with the county's largest employer includes average 3 percent raises — one of the highest salary increases this year among Florida school districts — as well as continued full health insurance benefits for all employees.
Those pay increases are made possible, in part, by the ending of a district early retirement plan that had been in place since 1997. The United School Employees of Pasco had opposed closing the plan to new participants, but relented as the district pushed back the final date into mid 2018.
Union leaders also fought an effort to ban tobacco use on all district property, but gave in on that point, as well. The union did win an added 50 minutes of weekly uninterrupted planning time, after hundreds of teachers complained that mandatory meetings and paperwork were hindering their ability to prepare for classes.
School-related employees also received better pay for when they substitute in classrooms for absent teachers.
"We're pleased with the results," USEP lead negotiator Jim Ciadella said. "There is always some give and take in bargaining."
District officials agreed.
"We worked hard and got a lot done this year," said Betsy Kuhn, lead negotiator for the district. "There were a lot of big issues on the table."
In addition to smoking, raises, early retirement and planning time, those included midyear teacher transfers, pay for teachers who substitute for colleagues, and the timing of paycheck distribution. The first two issues disappeared, while the latter proved the final stumbling block needing resolution.
Negotiators agreed to set up a task force to explore options.
In the end, the sides walked away satisfied that they had won some and lost some.
The next move is ratification. Employees are to get a copy of the proposal before winter break, with plans for a mid January vote.
The School Board is scheduled to consider the contract Jan. 20.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.