LAND O'LAKES — Pasco public school teachers won their first raise in six years Monday, just days before they receive their first paychecks of the school year.
Negotiators from the two sides reached a contract deal in two months, a much quicker resolution than in years past.
"My priority has been to settle the salary question as early as possible to assure that our staff receives the pay increases they've been waiting six years to get," superintendent Kurt Browning said in a news release.
United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb added, "We were determined to reward those employees who have stayed loyal to the district over the years — especially during the economic downturn. They've earned the right to be paid more than someone who just got hired."
If ultimately ratified, teachers would get an average salary bump of 4.7 percent, with all teachers getting at least $580 and the longest-tenured teachers receiving a total raise of $2,440. Noninstructional personnel, who also completed talks Monday, would see an average increase of about 5 percent.
State lawmakers made the teacher raises possible when they met Gov. Rick Scott's demand to put money into teacher pay. Pasco received about $11 million toward that end.
The state did not fund higher pay for school-related employees, so the Pasco School Board agreed to dip into reserves for $3.5 million toward those salaries.
Though Scott said he wanted $2,500 across-the-board raises for teachers, the state budget did not cover that full amount. Districts also had to negotiate their deals.
The USEP proposed giving teachers raises based on their years of service, with the funding split into shares. Teachers with more years working for the district would get more shares, based on the idea that they had sacrificed the longest without added compensation. Fifth-year teachers now earn the same amount as first-year teachers.
District officials had prepared to make a counter offer of across-the-board increases, but yielded to overwhelming support by teachers for the share concept.
The district adjusted the USEP's proposed terms, cutting the amount of the raises slightly. They also insisted on raising a starting teacher's salary to $37,000 to be more competitive.
In addition, the district agreed to do away with a plan to eliminate a local early-retirement benefit, a controversial cut that was to have saved $1.5 million. Finance officials said they found savings in other areas.
Both the School Board and employees must vote on the agreement before it takes effect.