LAND O'LAKES — Talks about money began in earnest Wednesday evening between the Pasco County teachers and the district administration.
Instead of coming in with a proposal, though, the teachers arrived with a query: "My team would like to get a better sense of where the district is," said Jim Ciadella, lead negotiator for the United School Employees of Pasco.
Employee relations supervisor Kevin Shibley, who heads the district's bargaining team, whipped out a one-page spreadsheet.
On one side of the sheet was the district's proposal for all employees to receive a supplement of $584.38. On the other side, a breakdown of the district's proposal for everyone to get a bonus of $637.85.
A supplement requires a contribution to the Florida Retirement System and potentially counts toward employee pensions.
A bonus doesn't include retirement benefits.
Neither would be a recurring payment in future years for the teachers, who are facing a second straight year without raises or step increases for years of service.
Shibley explained that the $5.29 million total represented the operating budget funds available after the district set aside about $6 million to pay for rising health insurance premiums. The district continues to fully cover employee health insurance, although employees must pay for family member coverage.
Ciadella had some immediate questions about the offers. They included concerns about taxes and retirement benefits, but the key issue focused on whether employee bonuses or supplements would be differentiated based on service.
"You guys are not looking to differentiate at all from a second, third, or fourth year employee to a 20 year employee?" he asked.
Exactly right, Shibley answered.
That might be an area for negotiation, he said, but the superintendent and School Board members hear regularly from employees that they're hurting in their pocketbook every time they go to the grocery store.
"Necessities cost the same whether you're in step 1 or step 26 of the salary schedule," Shibley said. "This is really an attempt to get something meaningful in the hands of all employees."
After a few minutes more, the teachers asked for a break in negotiations so they could review the offers privately. After about 30 minutes, they announced they would not return to bargaining for the evening.
Future negotiation dates have not been set.
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.