LAND O'LAKES — Negotiators for Pasco's 4,000 teachers are asking for their step increases, which have been delayed since July, plus a 3 percent raise.
During contract talks Wednesday, union representatives said that, with some readjustments to spending priorities, the district could afford the $11.27-million expense despite tough financial times statewide.
"We believe there's a way to find the dollars to do this," lead teacher negotiator Jim Ciadella told district representatives.
The union also asked for step increases and raises for non-instructional staff. Those would total $2.5-million more.
Ciadella suggested that the district should tap into its reserves, noting that USF leaders have announced they will do that to give pay raises. He noted that the district's proposal to adopt self-insured health and pharmacy benefits will cost only about 4 percent more than last year —that's half the amount set aside in the budget.
"You would hope the dollars saved from that difference would be earmarked for employee salaries," he said.
The School Board has yet to approve the self-insurance plan.
Lead district negotiator Terry Rhum said the board and administration have given good raises in the past and want to continue to do so. But, he added, the budget took a $7-million cut last year and faces further reductions this year of nearly $20-million.
Most important, Rhum said, the administration and board do not want to lay off anyone.
"Certainly the employees are a priority. But our revenues have to match our liabilities," he said. "Where that comes together, that will be what we can do with wages."
He told the union not to expect a response before Sept. 16.
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.