LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School District has flatly dismissed an employee proposal to pay annual step increases and higher insurance benefits this year.
Citing a "third year of severe financial crisis" in Florida, the county's largest employer offered the United School Employees of Pasco a third year without raises based on years of service or cost of living increases. It also rejected the idea of paying more for employee insurance, which translates into fewer benefits.
Beyond that, the district proposed during Thursday's negotiating session a reduction in the amount of pay for teachers who instruct an extra class period daily. And for the purpose of setting salaries, it proposed giving new hires credit for only up to seven years of experience, regardless of how many years they taught somewhere else.
The only concession the district made to the union's position was to rescind its proposal for a furlough, which the administration had recommended as a way to save $2.1 million. District lead negotiator Kevin Shibley said the School Board agreed to use some of the $11 million expected in a new round of federal stimulus funding to cover that amount.
"In the end, you're just talking about two nonrecurring revenue streams," Shibley said.
The board did not go along with the USEP's request to use an additional $7.7 million of the "Edujobs" federal money to cover the raises and insurance costs, though. Instead, the district planned to set aside the grant money for fiscal 2012, when budget shortfalls are expected to approach $46 million.
The district's position infuriated USEP leaders, who called it "shameful and unacceptable."
"I don't know that we were expecting such take-backs," USEP president Lynne Webb said, referring to the proposals of reduced pay for extra work and limited credit for experience. "We don't usually start at less than zero. I think it's the worst counterproposal we've ever gotten in my 20-plus years in this business."
She blasted the administration for basing its economic offer on what it fears might happen next year, when so much remains unknown that far off. The negotiations should focus on the current year, Webb said, and if necessary the terms can change next year.
"I see a marked difference in this district's attitude," she said. "Under previous superintendents, it was that we want to be competitive. … Now the attitude is that we don't care if we're scraping the bottom of the barrel. It's a devaluing of the profession."
As word spread of the offer, some teachers began to express their displeasure. Some noted, for instance, that the new offer for teaching an extra period — $2,500 per year or $1,250 per semester — works out to a lower hourly rate than they currently make, and in fact is less than the minimum wage.
Expecting such reaction, Webb refused to sign the district's offer.
"We told (Shibley) to go back to the board and call us afterward, to urge the board to spend their last four weeks on the job coming up with something that would be a palatable settlement," she said.
Three board members retire after the Nov. 2 election.
Shibley said the negotiation session went "about as expected." He planned to talk to the superintendent and board about the USEP reaction, but added that he didn't count on much wiggle room.
"At this point, the ball is in the union's court," Shibley said. "The board has made its position clear."
No further dates for contract talks have 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 www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.