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Pasco School Board considers longer days for higher pay

The board rejected a similar proposal in 2012.
The Pasco County School Board is looking at a proposal to have teachers work longer days as a way to increase pay. [Pasco County school district]
The Pasco County School Board is looking at a proposal to have teachers work longer days as a way to increase pay. [Pasco County school district]
Published Aug. 22, 2018

Pasco County teachers have in recent months urged their School Board to find money for increased salaries.

The plan that's emerging might have them working 30 minutes more daily in exchange for average raises of $3,300.

District administrators said Tuesday they're serious about promoting the "six of seven" plan for 2019-20, suggesting it would give teachers more time to prepare while making Pasco more competitive with surrounding school systems.

The savings from a reduction of about 300 teaching positions would cover the anticipated $17 million cost, they projected, leaving an extra $1.5 million on the table for non-instructional employee pay. The administration anticipated absorbing teachers whose jobs are reduced.

"We're being asked to improve teacher salaries. … We have to do it assuming no legislative intervention," deputy superintendent Ray Gadd told the board during an afternoon workshop. "This proposal has a lot of details to it … but there's not a single thing we can't accomplish if the board has the will."

Related coverage: Pasco School Board members to look for ways to pay employees more 

The board, with different members, rejected a similar idea in 2012.

This time, board members signaled a willingness to consider the concept.

"If we want to increase salaries, this seems like a good way to do it," said board member Colleen Beaudoin, who encouraged her colleagues during a recent budget hearing to treat pay raises as a more serious priority. "If we are going to lose them [teachers], they are going to end up doing it anyway."

Beaudoin referred to teachers who said they are leaving Pasco for Hillsborough schools, which pay more but have teachers work longer days.

Related coverage: Pasco teachers, support staff ask for more competitive pay 

"This does significantly move the needle," chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said, offering support for staff to flesh out more details. "I know it's not an easy thing to do. I think that's why it didn't move forward before. … There are a lot of moving parts. I'm really glad we're taking this look at it."

Board member Steve Luikart called the idea "impressive" and also wanted more information.

Teachers attending the board's meeting were less enthusiastic.

"It's time for this board to support your teachers and [school related personnel] and give us the pay raise that we are due without increasing the workload," said Land O'Lakes High social studies teacher Kenny Blankenship, a former United School Employees of Pasco president.

District 5 School Board candidate Kassie Hutchinson suggested teachers deserve better.

"Teachers need raises in Pasco. … Those raises need to come without obligation," Hutchinson told the board. "Raises for more work are not raises."

Current USEP president Don Peace also pointed out that the proposal does little for teachers this year, which had been the objective.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said the district has "cobbled together" enough money for raises of about 1 percent this year, before taking into account new money from enrollment growth. Few other ideas emerged to cut spending and divert the resources toward pay.

"I would caution the board to wait until October count before we make any decisions about salary increases," he said.

Board members agreed.

Peace suggested that more money exists. He pointed out that the district had 78 advertised teaching vacancies currently, which translates into about $4.7 million, or about 1 percent raises for everyone.

Add that to the enrollment increases and roll forward funds, he said, and suddenly you're looking at more meaningful increases. He repeated his call for a joint district-USEP task force to investigate added revenue sources.

Wesley Chapel resident Anthony Perugini further urged the board to take an extra step that several other districts are pursuing: A referendum to increase local property taxes, with the revenue dedicated to teachers and perhaps the arts.

"We're looking at trying to get blood out of a rock. It's not going to happen," Perugini said. "Would it take a half mill to pay our teachers? Yet you've never asked us. It's just pathetic."

Beaudoin said she is studying that option. But the district would not be able to act fast enough to get any referendum on the November ballot, election supervisor Brian Corley has said.

The board noted that, if it is to pursue the new teaching schedule, it will require time and buy-in to make it work. Browning said he would expand discussions to include more teachers, principals and others.

He expected to bring more information back to the board in late September or early October.