In accepting 2017-18 contract terms with tiny pay raises, the Pasco County teachers union found some solace in a deal to refine the school district's performance evaluation system.
Already tied to salaries and continued employment, the evaluations carried high stakes and were viewed in some corners as punitive. The revised model aimed to ease the anxiety, replacing formal observations with informal ones earlier in the year, and offering more regular feedback to allow for development.
But now United School Employees of Pasco leaders say that many teachers are not benefiting from the change, and some still have not been reviewed even as reappointments get made.
The union recently reached out to all teachers — including non-members — to determine how widespread the problem is. Formal complaints would be the next step.
"We were hearing stories, and we're just doing our job and trying to confirm if there's any merit to the stories," said Jim Ciadella, USEP operations director. "As of April 16, some teachers are not clear where they stand at all, relative to their performance this year."
The situation is particularly troublesome if principals have not informed teachers that their evaluations would not be complete by the end of the third quarter, USEP president Don Peace said.
"We are concerned with the unfairness of the process being followed," Peace said.
District officials were not taken off guard by the union movement. Ciadella reminded them of the agreement in a March 15 email, and noted the USEP would address the situation if it were not resolved.
But they were surprised by the scope of the union's action.
"When you read what they sent out, that sounds like a solicitation of grievances," employee relations director Kathy Scalise said, referring to an April 9 advisory sent to all district teachers. "We've never had that happen before."
Scalise said she did not know how extensive the issue is, having not received any grievances yet. She sent a memo to principals, advising them how to deal with any teachers who come in with a complaint.
"Many administrators have not gone down that road," she noted.
Scalise also suggested in her memo that the USEP might be seeking individual grievances, rather than filing a class-action complaint, in order to boost membership. Lawmakers recently required all teacher unions have 50 percent participation, or face possible decertification.
"USEP currently has approximately 48% of the instructional bargaining unit, so they need about 350 additional instructional members to meet the required threshold," she wrote.
Peace acknowledged that the USEP would be representing only members for grievances. But boosting union participation "was not the intent," he said. "It may end up as being a byproduct."
The primary objective, he said, is to ensure the teachers' contract is being upheld by the district.
"We are the bargaining agent," Peace said. "Whether you're a member or not, this is going to affect you."