LAND O'LAKES — Pasco school employees will get no raises, no step increases, and a small increase in their health insurance benefits in their newly ratified contract.
"We are very pleased that this year's negotiations are behind us and now we can (begin) next year's," United School Employees of Pasco vice president Frank Roder told the School Board on Tuesday, while announcing the association's adoption of the contract.
Among teachers, 3,497 of 5,096 eligible voted, with 3,086 (88 percent) in favor of ratifying the contract.
Among school-related employees, 2,394 of 2,781 eligible workers voted, with 2,122 (89 percent) in favor.
Roder called the deal one of the worst the workers have ever seen.
The lengthy negotiations, which began in the summer, featured employee protests and stalled at one point.
One attempt at mediation failed. But talks restarted before going to a special magistrate, as both sides sought to reach an agreement reflecting the deterioration of Florida's economy.
Roder said he "hopes and prays" the district will be able to balance the 2009-10 budget on someone else's shoulders: "Without increases in salaries we're going to lose some of our brightest and best teachers" and school-related personnel.
Board chairman Frank Parker pointedly noted that the decision isn't entirely up to the board.
"We hope and pray that our legislators will find more money to pass on to us, also," Parker said.
The board unanimously ratified the contract Tuesday after learning that the USEP also had approved the deal.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.