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Pasco school district examining pay disparities

LAND O'LAKES — One long-time assistant principal at Chasco Middle School earns $18,000 more than the principal.

A supervisor in the Pasco County School District's research and evaluation department makes $12,000 more than the director. The principal of the district's largest school is paid the same amount as the principal of one of the smallest.

These disparities — and others like them within the system — have prompted superintendent Kurt Browning to launch a review of the school district's entire salary structure, from the highest paid administrator to the lowest paid aide.

"We are going to be looking at everything. Teachers, too," Browning said.

Teachers with zero to four years of experience and the same level of education all receive the same base pay.

Assistant superintendent Ray Gadd, who is overseeing the effort, deemed the issue a matter of both equity within the district and competitiveness with surrounding districts. The need became evident as Browning looked to hire new administrators from outside.

The district's new human resources director, for instance, won't receive as much as the veteran supervisor in her department who helped process her employment paperwork. But her salary is still above the base level director pay that many other department heads are paid, a fact that prompted Gadd to alert other directors in hopes they wouldn't feel slighted.

"Those are the kinds of problems that we have," said Gadd, who took a $120,000 pay cut to return to the district in December from a private sector job. "We're going to try to take a look at it. It's very, very complicated."

Jim Ciadella, United School Employees of Pasco lead negotiator for teachers, said he wasn't familiar with Browning's plans. But the concept of correcting pay rates sounded good if done well and properly bargained, he added — particularly after five years without raises for anyone.

The USEP often gets complaints about the flat level of pay for teachers at the lowest steps on the salary schedule. There's also the matter of pay compared to neighboring counties.

Pasco teachers earn less than their Pinellas counterparts, for instance, in employment years one through 13, then make slightly more in years 14 through 23. After that, Pinellas teachers win out again.

A 25th year teacher with a bachelor's degree makes $50,070 in Pasco and $54,201 in Pinellas. If the teacher has a master's degree, the Pasco salary is $52,770 while the Pinellas pay is $56,381.

The pay is more varied in the administrative ranks. A high school principal has the opportunity to earn more in Pinellas ($118,022) than in Pasco ($114,143), but an elementary school principal can make better money in Pasco ($108,704) than in Pinellas ($101,185).

Better pay "will be our objective as a teacher union," Ciadella said.

School Board members, who ultimately approve all pay rates, sounded positive about the superintendent's initiative.

"If they're looking to make it a more equitable solution, I'm all for it," board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley said. "No one should be getting paid less than someone they are supervising."

She also praised the idea of making the district's pay rates more competitive, in order to attract the best candidates available. Crumbley did note, though, that the district already finds strong applicants for its jobs regardless.

"Sometimes money is not everything," she said.

Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong agreed, saying Pasco schools offer benefits such as a better work environment that can factor into employment decisions. She also noted that as the state moves more toward performance-based pay, some of these concerns will evaporate because employees will not be paid primarily based on resume details.

"I'm a firm believer that people should be paid for the work that they do and for the results that they get," Armstrong said.

Still, she said, as the administration prepares its 2013-14 budget proposal, it should have a handle on salaries and any changes it wishes to seek.

Board member Steve Luikart, who worked for the district before his election, said pay inequities have existed within the system for decades. Part of the problem, he noted, was that some lower level employees reached the top level of their pay scale while their supervisors entered jobs at the low end of their own pay scale.

No one addressed the concerns over time, Luikart said, and they continued.

He expected that any adjustments would come over the next several months, to take effect with the new fiscal year (and contracts) beginning in July. That could mean some dramatic changes for some staff members, he said.

"I'm not sure how it will play out," Luikart said. "If they're going to make it equitable, they have to look at the overall thing. I'm sure it's going to impact people."

Gadd said the goal is to be as fair to everyone as possible, and acknowledged that won't be easy. He planned to kick off the review in earnest in the next couple of weeks.

"It's going to be a slow process," Gadd said. "We're putting together a committee to look at these. It's not like we have any great answers."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco school district examining pay disparities 02/02/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 2, 2013 2:16pm]
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