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District urges salary freeze for teachers

Six weeks after its teachers union requested a 6 percent pay raise for next year, the Hernando school district has answered with its own proposal: a salary freeze until at least January. "Every teacher would freeze where they are on the salary scale," chief school negotiator Edd Poore told the teachers bargaining group, which met Thursday for its third session of the year.

State financing _ which provides the bulk of the district's operating budget _ was trimmed at least three times during the just-ended school year, and district officials say they expect further cuts in the coming year.

Poore said the district would hold salary talks in January if there were no further state budget cuts. Any pay raises awarded then would be retroactive to the beginning of the school year, he said.

But he also presented union leaders a letter from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, which noted that state revenues for the coming school year may have been overestimated by some $250-million.

"If this is true, you can look for additional cuts during the 1991-92 fiscal year," the association's chief executive officer, John Gaines, wrote in a letter to members.

Union leaders, while aware of the budget crunch, were still disappointed by the proposal for a salary freeze.

"It certainly is a discouraging proposal," said Cliff Wagner, president of the Hernando County Teachers Association, commenting that taxes, insurance and food costs continue to mount.

"The government didn't freeze those items."

Brigid Olson, an executive director of the local union's statewide affiliate, the Florida Teaching Profession/National Education Association, said the union needed assurances that the freeze would apply to every aspect of the school district, including new programs.

"If we are seriously going to consider this, we've got to be convinced that things are equitably distributed," said Ms. Olson, the teachers' chief negotiator. She asked the administration to provide copies of each department's and school's proposed budget.

"When you ask people to accept no increase, it will be real interesting to see what else is being spent," she told Poore.

Schools Superintendent Dan McIntyre said the freeze would affect not only teachers, but administrative salaries as well.

"A freeze is a freeze," he said.

But the district does plan to spend more money than last year on some items.

As part of a comprehensive change in its language arts instruction, an estimated $200,000 more than this year will be spent on textbooks for reading and English, Tom Maher, assistant superintendent for instruction, said in a telephone interview.

Maher told the negotiators that the new program, worked out over the past two years as part of the district's regular curriculum review, was one of his highest priorities.

The district also refused a union request that the School Board pay 100 percent of insurance costs and refused to increase the number of paid holidays from four to six.

The two sides will continue negotiations Thursday.