LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County's school employees union has rejected a proposed one-day furlough estimated to save $2.1 million.
The United School Employees of Pasco not only dismissed that proposed pay cut, but it also asked for a one-time supplement and payment of annual raises based on years of service, as well as an extra $240 per employee toward health insurance benefits. Employees have not received raises or steps since 2007.
The total request, brought to the bargaining table late Wednesday, would add about $7.7 million to the district's budget. USEP president Lynne Webb suggested that the costs could be covered through the recently approved federal education jobs funding bill and savings generated through unfilled positions.
"We think this could be a wash," Webb said.
District employee relations director Kevin Shibley, lead negotiator for the School Board, didn't share that enthusiasm for the employees' economic proposal.
For one thing, Shibley said, the salary step increases would have to be paid annually, yet the money that the USEP is counting on is not a recurring source.
"Once it's gone, it's gone," he said.
That would leave the district with added financial obligations at a time when it already projects a revenue shortfall of $46 million for next year, as other one-time funding sources also dry up.
The district also has to be cautious with the so-called EduJobs money — about $11 million — that is coming in because of comments made by state lawmakers about its use, Shibley said.
Florida Senate Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander recently announced that if districts intend to spend their share of the money this year, they should "reserve or set aside a like amount from other state or local funds to be available for the district in 2011-12." The stated plan is to count the federal money as part of next year's budget, one way or another.
"It has put the district in a very difficult position," Shibley said. "On the one hand, we have the federal guidance, which seems to suggest that the money needs to be spent. On the other hand, we've got the legislators saying to spend the money this year but to set aside a proportional amount. … We have to figure out what we are going to do."
Webb was adamant that the district take a stand against what she viewed as state legislative hijacking of the EduJobs money against the stated goals of Congress.
She noted that the resolution approving the money requires school districts to spend it on salaries and benefits to retain, recall or hire school employees. It specifically bans using the money for general administration costs or reserves. And it further says that states may not use the money, directly or indirectly, to "establish, restore, or supplement a rainy-day fund" or to "supplant state funds in a manner that has the effect of establishing, restoring, or supplementing a rainy-day fund."
"This is a clear example where the district needs to stand up on principle … and make it clear to the legislature they're not going to supplant and do what I call the lottery shell game with the money," Webb said. "The district needs to for once stand up and do what is right for the employees."
She also rejected the arguments that the district should not grant step increases this year because of future financial problems.
"Quite frankly, we negotiate economics every year," she said. "If the district finds they don't have the money, they just need to come to the table. … I am tired of constantly bargaining under the shadow of the grim reaper."
Shibley said he understood the union's frustrations, and that he would seek direction from the School Board and superintendent at an executive session scheduled for Friday morning. He said he would try to schedule the next date for negotiations after that meeting.
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.