LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County school employees union has turned down the administration's request to talk about new rules for making all schools tobacco-free.
The issue should wait until the next round of contract talks in the spring, said Lynne Webb, United School Employees of Pasco president.
"We just finished negotiations," Webb said Wednesday, noting that the district team could have broached the subject while everyone was at the table. "There has to be a compelling reason to reopen negotiations."
In Pasco, schools that opened before July 1996 can have designated smoking areas for staff use. Tobacco is banned at newer campuses. The subject of a countywide ban came up this month after the district's health advisory committee sent a letter urging School Board members to seek ways to make all schools tobacco-free.
"Implementing such a policy would limit our youth's exposure to tobacco products, and slow their rates of tobacco use and addiction," the committee wrote.
The board cannot act unilaterally, though. Its employee contracts say that faculty and staff must unanimously agree to a change on the older campuses. About 60 percent of the county's schools opened before 1996.
To amend the agreement now would require another ratification vote. Plus, Webb said, the faculty and staff have plenty of other more important matters to tackle, such as the implementation of Common Core standards and continued revisions to teacher evaluations.
"We're just not willing to open up for this," she said, suggesting the district should use the time to collect data on employee tobacco use at schools.
The district has no record of any holding a vote to eliminate its outdoor smoking area since the policy took effect. The health advisory committee suggested changing employee contracts so a simple majority might decide the issue, rather than requiring everyone to support change.
Assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said it would make sense for the school system to be able to ban tobacco use on its campuses, as has happened at restaurants, colleges and other places of business since the district rule took hold 17 years ago.
At the very least, he said, the contract should include some mechanism to allow for easier limitations.
"Under the policy, it is possible that the Pasco County school district could never be smoke-free," Gadd said.
The administration will wait to negotiate if it must, he said. "But we're not going to drop it."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.