Land O’Lakes High School math teacher Pat Connolly strode to the podium to make another of his speeches to the Pasco County School Board.
His main point: The district’s teacher pay had grown uncompetitive with the surrounding communities. Fifteen years ago, Connolly remarked, Pasco had the highest pay in the area. Now, it’s at the bottom.
Unchecked, the situation could have long-term negative consequences for the county’s students.
One detail in his 3-minute commentary stood out.
In 2007, a teacher with 20 years experience and a bachelor’s degree earned $49,270 per year, before adding in any supplements, bonuses or other forms of pay. That same teacher would see a base pay of $47,630 — that’s $1,640 less, and it doesn’t account for inflation or anything.
“How is that improving pay?” Connolly asked the board, joining other teachers in criticizing the board’s contract offer of 2 percent raises, which was higher than the original proposal to hold salaries flat.
Board members, who have asked the administration for ideas to increase pay, said they were astounded by Connolly’s fact and serious about resolving it.
“It’s at a critical stage,” chairwoman Alison Crumbley said, calling the situation among the most pressing currently facing the board. “You have to hire good teachers. You have to pay them to have good outcomes with your students. They have to pay their bills like everyone else.”
Board member Megan Harding, a classroom teacher before taking office in November, said the comparison between 2007 and now “made me sick" — especially when comparing Pasco pay to that of neighboring Pinellas. It would take a Pasco teacher 16 years to reach the starting teacher pay in Pinellas, after Pinellas concluded its contract talks.
Harding noted that Pinellas has a local option property tax that bolsters salaries, something Pasco has not asked voters to approve.
“Maybe we do need to think about putting a referendum on the ballot,” she said, stressing she had not made a decision on that.
She planned to meet with district officials after the spring break to discuss the current plan to make teacher pay more competitive, “so we can keep our teachers and give them what they deserve.”
District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the superintendent’s administrative team had begun conversations about how it might change its approach, perhaps completely revising its salary schedule. That could take extra money, which would require tough decisions about possible budget cuts and other actions.
The item is on the agenda for the administration’s strategic initiatives meeting on March 25, she said, adding, “It’s not going to be a quick process.”
United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace urged the board to do what it takes to support educators, in this time when people are walking away from the profession and new teachers are becoming more scarce.
“Place employee salaries at the front end of the budget,” Peace said, “and let your employees know how much you respect them.”