Friday, November 24, 2017

More pay cuts should be last resort for Pasco school district


Two weeks after the conclusion of Teacher Appreciation Week, the Pasco County School Board unveiled its own plan of gratitude toward educators and all district employees: more pay cuts.

As it has been in the past, and as should be expected with personnel costs accounting for 85 percent of the school district's operating budget, payroll became the main focus as the board seeks to identify nearly $25 million in spending cuts.

Faculty and staff have gone without so-called step increases — previously negotiated raises based on longevity — for four years. This year, they also absorbed pay cuts via furloughs and legislative-mandated contributions to retirement plans.

For the coming budget year, School Board members are considering three furlough days for all employes to save $5 million and/or a 1 percent salary cut to save $3.56 million. It is a combination that unfairly attempts to balance the budget on the backs of existing employees.

(Full disclosure: Pasco Times editor of editorials C.T. Bowen is married to a Pasco school district teacher.)

Each furlough day is the approximate equivalent of a 0.5 percent salary reduction. The district is likely to have more luck negotiating with the United School Employees of Pasco if it seeks a corresponding workload reduction, instead of just pushing an across-the-board wage cut.

Meanwhile, the board also is considering eliminating 82 school-based positions and five district-level jobs to save $3.63 million and cutting supplemental pay for coaches and band directors.

Perhaps most troubling is that the board will be asked again to consider similar cuts in the summer of 2013. The greatest share of the budget deficit — $12.8 million — is being filled by moving around one-time revenue. In other words, that cash won't be available again next year, and the district will start with a nearly $13 million hole.

The school district employs approximately 9,000 people. Besides the furlough days, cuts approved last year included eliminating more than 500 jobs from the payroll. Handing out pink slips and reducing pay and benefits is a simplistic solution to what has amounted to a half-decade of revenues failing to meet expenses.

While studying but discarding a four-day school week brought some cost-cutting suggestions, the board needs a broader, long-term examination of such things as remuneration, school safety and employee assignments.

For instance, can the district afford the cost of deploying resource officers to elementary schools, budgeting medical insurance costs for future retirees who haven't even been hired yet or keeping certified teachers and literacy coaches in positions outside the classroom?

Asking educators and support staff for continued give-backs will be more palatable if the board and district administration can say they've exhausted all other alternatives and are realizing the district's long-term fiscal future.


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