LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School Board is counting on employee furloughs to balance its budget this year.
Their employees' union has other ideas, though.
United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb on Wednesday rejected the district's proposal to give unpaid leaves of absence to every district worker as a way to save nearly $6 million.
Facing a $54 million revenue shortfall, the district has already has laid off 470 employees, including temporary service contract workers, to cut spending by more than $27 million. (Some of those employees have been rehired to fill other vacancies.) It also has reallocated money from its capital accounts, and tapped into one-time federal funds, to cover much of the difference.
The furloughs were considered the final piece of the puzzle. Full-year employees would get four unpaid days, while others would get three.
"We've done as many reductions as we can to save as many positions as we can," district negotiator Bryan Jack told the USEP's school-related personnel bargaining team on Wednesday. "This is one of the only ways that we can come up with that money."
Webb said she was not convinced that the district needed to cut as much spending as officials said they do.
She noted that the district has saved nearly $600,000 in operating funds through an early retirement offer. Insurance costs are projected to come in thousands below the amount budgeted, she added. And the budget carryover from 2010-11 looks to be about $750,000, she continued.
"For the board to come back and propose exactly what they have budgeted and not take into account all these areas where we worked hard to find savings … we think that needs to be taken more into consideration," Webb said. "We will not be accepting this proposal as it is."
She asked for time to meet with her team to discuss a possible counterproposal.
After 20 minutes, Webb returned to say that the USEP had no immediate response. The group preferred to wait until the teachers' negotiating team gets its furlough offer, which Jack said would be essentially the same, and then have a joint bargaining session.
Webb did say she was pleased that, at the very least, the board's offer provided for discussions about which days would be selected for the furloughs. She asked if Jack had any idea which ones were on the table.
He asked Webb her thoughts about turning a paid holiday into an unpaid one. The district still has not responded to the USEP's request to guarantee the past Independence Day as a paid holiday.
Webb flatly rejected that concept, saying that taking away a holiday is a pay cut. A furlough should be a regular work day that isn't worked and isn't paid, she said.
Then she noted that many employee contracts don't have much wiggle room for days off. She suggested that one of the furlough days, if agreed upon, might have to be a class day.
That would shut down the system. But it also would make clear to families exactly how big the district's financial crisis has become, Webb added.
"This district has done a great job shielding the parents and students over the years," she said. "I think we're at a point where it's unavoidable."
The sides closed after agreeing to return to the table for a joint session on furloughs on Tuesday.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.