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  1. Gradebook

Teacher pay raises top budget priorities for Pasco schools, superintendent says

School Board members and teachers have called for bigger salary boosts than the district has been offering.

Two weeks after the formal approval of a contract putting 2.7 percent more money into Pasco County teacher salaries, superintendent Kurt Browning says he aims to do better for 2019-20.

Browning told the School Board on Tuesday that he and his leadership team had begun reviewing budgets for the coming academic year, and “prioritized teacher salaries as being critical for our district to succeed and move forward.”

The district should receive added flexible funds because lawmakers increased the base student allocation by $75 per student, he noted. The plan, Browning said, is to use that money to bolster pay as much as possible before looking at increasing spending in other areas.

“We’re starting there first,” he said, referring to salaries.

His announcement came during a conversation about how the district might improve academic offerings in its schools. Board vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin had called for a future workshop to discuss the district’s plans for magnets and other programs that attract students, suggesting the need for a more streamlined and direct approach to improving student outcomes in part by offering better models.

Browning responded by saying his administration continues to explore options after the board rejected his plans to close and consolidate some schools, using the savings to amp up programs such as Cambridge and create new magnets such as a STEAM school in New Port Richey. Without the savings, he said, the district doesn’t have enough money to do it all, and the pressure has been mounting to boost teacher pay in order to keep educators from fleeing to other districts with higher salaries.

“It weighs heavy on me,” Browning said. “I know there is so much we need to do. We just don’t have the resources to do it.”

His move to put salaries first on the budget list marks a change in approach. The district in past years has plugged all its other budget needs, such as rising insurance and utility costs, and then put whatever was left into wages.

That has meant smaller increases than in other districts, putting Pasco behind in competitive pay rates. Many teachers have complained to the board, and told stories of colleagues departing to work in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties, where paychecks are higher.

United School Employees of Pasco leaders have repeatedly urged the district to focus on salaries before a major exodus occurs — including Tuesday night.

“More needs to be done in solidifying Pasco’s stature in giving quality education to our students,” USEP president Don Peace told the board.

Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley praised Browning for his plan to put more attention toward pay, saying it would “serve everybody to the best.”

The board has to approve a new budget by September. New contract talks are expected to begin in June.