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Pasco teachers decline to put off their raises

LAND O'LAKES — No way.

That's the Pasco teachers association leadership's unanimous answer to superintendent Heather Fiorentino's request that the teachers delay their annual salary increases that are based on years of service.

"We have not seen any (other) cost-cutting measures the district will try," United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb said Wednesday. "They do not feel like the first line should be on the backs of the employees."

Fiorentino called the association's decision regrettable.

"They need to understand that 85 percent of our budget is salaries," she said. "To avoid layoffs, we're really going to have to work together."

The problem, both sides acknowledge, is that the state's revenue shortfalls are about to hit home. This year, the Pasco district had more than $10-million taken back from the state as lawmakers amended the budget. It was able to handle the losses through a hiring freeze and by holding back 10 percent of department budgets early in the year.

Next year, those measures aren't likely to help as much as the Legislature looks at cutting per-student funding for the first time in about three decades. Though the spending plan isn't settled yet, Pasco could see its revenue pushed back to 2006 levels, about $35-million less than this year.

If the teachers would put off their "step increases" until negotiations are complete, Fiorentino contended, the district would have time to assess where its money needs to go.

The teachers say, look at programs first.

"While the USEP leaders are well aware of the state's budgetary and revenue shortfalls, they felt the district must explore every other cost saving option before resorting to withholding step increases," Webb wrote in a letter to the superintendent.

School Board member Marge Whaley said she understands teachers thinking that cuts should come from the top first.

"I do too," Whaley said.

She noted that the district provides lunch for board members at meetings. The board members should pay for that, Whaley said. The board also should review its own travel spending, she added.

"I know it's a teeny, tiny thing, but" it would show an effort, Whaley said, adding that she planned to ask the full board to start talking about budget needs and priorities.

Board chair Kathryn Starkey, meanwhile, called upon the teachers to work with the administration to find solutions rather than taking an adversarial position.

"I'm hoping that she (Webb) will work with us, because it's not going to be easy," Starkey said.

In her letter to Fiorentino, Webb wrote that the teachers "spent a great deal of time" coming up with some cost-saving ideas that she planned to send over after sorting them out.

Fiorentino said she looked forward to getting that list, and that she shared the view that cuts should come from areas other than the classroom and the teachers if possible.

"We have 10,000 employees and I firmly believe we are a team," Fiorentino said. "If we work together and support each other, we will all win, even in a losing situation."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Pasco teachers decline to put off their raises 03/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 11:36am]
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