LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school employees agreed Monday to wait to receive the annual pay increases they get based on years of experience.
During a brief emergency negotiation session, prompted by the fact that the raises otherwise would take effect today, the United School Employees of Pasco and the district administration signed a deal to delay the pay and suspend talks on the issue through at least July 31.
That way, the sides will have more time to gather additional financial data that might help them reach a feasible contract without making expensive early decisions that tie everyone's hands. The biggest detail that remains unknown is the cost of health benefits. A committee is reviewing bids.
"We just need time and information," employee relations director Terry Rhum explained.
Added deputy employee relations director Kevin Shibley: "We don't believe that anything at this point can be looked at in isolation."
USEP president Lynne Webb agreed.
"We've never, I think, put out economic proposals prematurely," Webb said. "We've always wanted to make sure we have all the figures."
In fact, the USEP proposed a one-month suspension of talks relating to the step increases last week. The administration rejected that proposal at the time, and then headed to a closed-door session with the School Board for additional direction.
"What they came back with was identical," Webb said. "I was glad after more dialogue maybe they realized there was a middle ground and they sought a way to get to it."
Rhum said the administration and board want to get employees the best possible pay package. Unfortunately, he noted, the money is tight and budget news coming out of Tallahassee is not improving.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino has proposed $16-million in spending cuts, including the elimination of the step increases.
Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to hold back 4 percent of the state's general operating budget for the new fiscal year, which begins today, could mean another $4-million in cuts for the Pasco district.
With that as a backdrop, everyone involved agreed that time and perspective are key in negotiating.
"We're just saying let's take one month and look at some facts and figures, and then let's talk about it," said Webb, who accused the district of bargaining in bad faith when it rejected that proposal last week.
Other areas of the contract remain open for review. Talks are slated to resume next week in those matters.
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.