LAND O'LAKES — Time is short for the Pasco County school district.
The administration wants to stave off the expense of its contractually obligated annual raises for years of service, which run into the millions of dollars. But for noninstructional school-related personnel, such as custodians, the "step increases" would take effect Tuesday without some agreement to postpone them.
So even though the United School Employees of Pasco rejected its first request to delay the raises, the administration asked again. This time, the union met the district part way.
But district officials aren't sure whether they will accept the union's compromise position.
"I'm not sure it does us any good," employee relations director Terry Rhum said. "We'll consider it."
District leaders knew they faced a tough audience. The union made it clear in May that it expected the annual raises as part of the contract, which includes a pay schedule based solely on years of service.
Hundreds of employees wore black on the last day of classes to protest superintendent Heather Fiorentino's proposal to halt the steps and freeze wages.
During negotiations this week, though, the union relented — slightly.
It agreed to hold through July 31 or whenever the district determines which bid it will accept for health insurance, whichever comes first.
The insurance package will be a "big piece" of the end result, USEP negotiator Jim Ciadella said. He declined to discuss the union's proposal any further, though, saying he did not want to negotiate in the newspaper.
"It's going to go up," Rhum said of the insurance premium, which are still under review by the district insurance committee. "We don't know exactly what it's going to be, but it's not going to be insignificant."
Fiorentino has signaled that if the sides can't reach an agreement on the step increases, she is likely to recommend an increase in employee contributions to the benefits package. The School Board has scheduled an executive session for 10:30 a.m. today to discuss the negotiations.
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.