LAND O'LAKES — Most years, Pasco County school employee contract negotiations begin softly with pleasantries, introductions, ground rules and some softball issues that get things headed in a positive direction.
This is not a normal year.
After just two meetings, the United School Employees of Pasco has blasted the district administration for bargaining in bad faith. The issue: The administration's demand that the workers postpone their annual raises based on years of service, or steps, until the contract is settled.
The USEP offered to delay the increases until July 31. But the administration "outright rejected" the proposal, prompting USEP president Lynne Webb to accuse the district of coming to the table without the intent of truly negotiating.
"It's premature to expect the USEP to agree to withhold steps indefinitely at this point when we're still waiting for final insurance and salary costs — costs that won't even be available until mid-July," Webb said in an alert to members she e-mailed and posted online.
School Board members held an emergency closed-door session Thursday to discuss whether they might change their stance. But when contacted by the Times, they refused to give any hint of where this quickly escalating battle is headed.
Late Friday, though, the sides announced they would head back to the bargaining table Monday to see if they can't work something out.