Pasco school district, employees inch closer to contract terms

Differences over pay raises remain the primary remaining hurdle.
United School Employees of Pasco negotiator Val Smith presents a pay request during contract talks Oct, 30, 2018. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
United School Employees of Pasco negotiator Val Smith presents a pay request during contract talks Oct, 30, 2018. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published Nov. 14, 2018

Pasco County school employee contract talks resume this week after a two-week hiatus, with the sides aiming to reach a deal before winter break begins in December.

Salaries remain the key sticking point.

In bargaining Monday, the United School Employees of Pasco massaged their pay request, leaving the total $2.48 million bottom line essentially unchanged but shifting the way the money would be spent.

Union representatives offered to reduce the across-the-board increase to 3.5 percent from 3.75 percent, and to put some of the remaining money into pay rates for the lowest paid workers. They continued to ask for a one-time bonus.

District officials responded by upping their total pay package to $1.15 million from $990,000, for a 1.5 percent raise.

See the documents here.

A similar back and forth is anticipated Thursday as the bargaining for teacher contracts takes place. At their most recent session, the sides stood nearly $5 million apart after both making some concessions to the other.

District employee relations director Kathy Scalise told the Gradebook that she does not anticipate meeting the full USEP demand.

"It's completely outside the realm of possibility," Scalise said. "With our current funding, there's no way, not without impacting positions, and we've always been committed to not doing that."

She said the district wants to avoid the stress of cuts that Hillsborough County has faced in recent years.

"They've made obligations they can't meet," Scalise said. "We can't in good conscience do that."

For the teachers, the sides also must reach an agreement on annual performance evaluations. They appear to have agreed on many of the details, which were hashed out over eight months in a working group.

But they so far disagree on whether the specific terms of the evaluations, such as how many people are in the room during observations, must be negotiated in the contract annually.

Scalise said the district views the "mechanics" as an employer prerogative, and that the administration is willing to publish the specifics annually by a set date but does not want to leave the issue open to yearly negotiations.

USEP officials have said they want the district to at least agree to the possibility of annual discussions on the topic.

Scalise has suggested the sides postpone the conversation for a few years, to see how the new model discussed in the working group actually turns out. Then they can have data to use when looking at an agreement in the future.

She anticipated renewing that recommendation for a delay when the sides get back together Thursday.

In 2017, the sides reached a tentative deal just days before winter break began. They aim to do the same again this year.