LAND O'LAKES — Having gone without raises for three years, the Pasco County teachers union has prodded the School Board to use federal stimulus money to boost employees' pay this year.
So far, the board and district administration have rejected that idea. They have different plans for Pasco's $14 million share of the Edujobs fund — plans that the United School Employees of Pasco contends violates the law that established the revenue stream.
After going back and forth, the union, which represents thousands of teachers and school-related personnel, on Tuesday declared an impasse in contract talks. It called for mediation to help find a resolution with Pasco County's largest employer.
District officials have said they will use the $14 million to forestall a furlough and to pay the salaries of several positions, but that they intend to set aside a similar amount for next year to avert layoffs.
Union president Lynne Webb said such a stance subverts the intent of Congress, which spelled out in its legislation that the money should not be used as a rainy day fund or to supplant other funding sources. Webb said the district's plan is budgetary sleight of hand and likened it to the state Legislature's shifting of money when the Lottery was approved.
"It is important from the get-go that the board knows the position the previous board took is not acceptable," Webb said Tuesday, hours before three new School Board members were sworn into office.
The board had scheduled an executive session Tuesday evening to discuss contract talks.
Board member Joanne Hurley told the Times she didn't want to pass any judgment on the union's action, noting the issue could come to the board for final action. She promised to listen to all arguments and have a frank conversation with her colleagues and the administration during the closed session.
Hurley said she would take into consideration the employees' concerns but also the needs of the entire district, including students and taxpayers.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said the union is taking an unreasonable position by demanding permanent extra pay based in large part on a one-time pot of money.
"Their proposals would further exacerbate the funding cliff of $47 million for next year, as they suggest using non-recurring revenue to pay for recurring expenses," Fiorentino said in a statement. "We have an obligation to ensure the long-term financial stability of the district while making decisions that are in the best interest of students and employees. We will take this proactive approach as we work through the impasse process."
Webb argued that Fiorentino is not negotiating with an open mind. The impasse declaration came at a time to highlight the differences for the new School Board members, in hopes they might lead the talks in a different direction, Webb said.
The union filed the declaration with the Public Employees Relations Commission.
The union and the district can return to the table without mediation if they find room for agreement. Otherwise they will face a lengthy process that ultimately ends with the board's decision on how to impose a contract.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.