New law confronts the Pasco County School Board with a pay cut — maybe

LAND O'LAKES — Florida lawmakers passed a law earlier this year saying School Board members can't make more money than a starting teacher in their district.

For Pasco County School Board members, who will set their salaries for the coming year on Tuesday, that will mean taking a $1,294 pay cut.

Or, perhaps, getting a $24 raise instead.

Typically the salaries for elected officials are set by the Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which has recommended $37,738 for Pasco School Board members — up $24 from a year ago. But the law passed this spring says School Board members must take that amount or the starting teacher's salary, whichever is less.

First-year teachers in Pasco County make $36,420 — which would make for a $1,294 pay cut for board members.

But Pasco chief financial officer Olga Swinson has thrown in a twist in the memo she sent to the board.

In it, Swinson explained that the Florida School Boards Association has recommended that boards compare the LCIR proposed pay with a beginning teacher's pay annualized over 245 days, rather than the 196 days that most teachers work.

Annualized, a brand new Pasco teacher's salary becomes $45,525.

The implication is that board members could take the $24 raise if they want it, rather than the $1,294 pay cut.

That notion has upset the United School Employees of Pasco, which is still negotiating to avoid a second straight year without raises or step increases for years of service.

"I would be hard-pressed to agree with that School Boards Association recommendation. It think it's self-serving," USEP president Lynne Webb said. "These School Board members do not work year-round. I doubt they work a full 196 days, if you calculate all the work they do. They ought to be following the intent of the state."

The intent is quite clear, said state Sen. Stephen Wise, the Jacksonville Republican who chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Committee.

"When we wrote the language, it was specific," Wise said.

"Whatever the beginning salary was, the School Board salary was not to be higher than what the (beginning) teachers get. None of this voodoo economics. … Give me a break."

Letter of the law

He said the Legislature initially considered cutting School Board member pay to somewhere around $100 per meeting — an amount common for school boards around the country. After Florida School Boards Association leaders complained, he said, the lawmakers suggested compromises.

First, they offered to set the salaries at the amount lawmakers make, around $28,000. When the complaints continued, they agreed upon the pay of a first-year teacher, not pro-rated.

Pasco School Board member Kathryn Starkey criticized the Legislature for singling out elected public education officials for pay cuts. (Elected superintendents also will see their salaries reduced, by 2 percent.)

She would not commit to how she might vote come Tuesday. Neither would board Vice Chairman Allen Altman, although he granted: "I'm absolutely confident we will not be raising (board salaries)."

Board member Joanne Hurley took a clear stance against the idea of comparing the board's pay to an annualized teacher's contract.

"I personally feel it would be better to take the beginning teacher salary, because I think that's what the Legislature had in mind," she said. "What I will do is say I think that's the spirit of the law."

In many counties, this issue hasn't even come up.

Pinellas district spokeswoman Andrea Zahn said that district simply compared the two salaries, determined the beginning teacher pay was less and notified board members that their checks would reflect their lower pay of $37,010, including retroactive reductions.

"This is consistent with the practice throughout the state," Zahn wrote in an e-mail.

Hillsborough and Hernando have yet to set their board salaries.

The LCIR has recommended their salaries be $40,932 and $32,912, respectively (the pay varies by county, largely because of differences in population).

Starting teacher pay for those districts is $37,014 in Hillsborough and $35,000 in Hernando.

Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

New law confronts the Pasco County School Board with a pay cut — maybe 10/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 1, 2009 8:20pm]

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