Representatives from the Pasco County school district and United School Employees of Pasco kicked off their 2019-20 contract talks this week, with an informal meeting to set future times to talk.
One thing both sides agree upon is the desire to get employees bigger raises than the approximately 2 percent they got after a mediated settlement in April.
Superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board on Tuesday he wants to provide at least 3 percent, which would cost the general revenue budget about $11 million more than the current year’s deal.
“We are committed to getting a minimum of 3 percent on the raise,” Browning said. “However, we are still $3.3 million away.”
He referred to a preliminary budget review that projects a shortfall of $3,348,995 if the district funds all its expected additions, fixed cost increases and required expenses from the $27.196 million in new money anticipated from state and local sources.
Of that amount, chief finance officer Olga Swinson reported, $9.2 million are reserved for categoricals such as Best and Brightest teacher bonuses, services such as tutoring for schools in turnaround status, and added safety measures.
Expenses such as rising retirement contributions, increased insurance costs and utilities will take another $7.1 million, she said.
That leaves approximately $11 million for discretionary spending, including raises, as lawmakers suggested.
However, Swinson noted, the district has other things it also wants to do, such as begin implementing new academic programs at some west Pasco schools ($405,000) and add more staff because of rising enrollment ($2.67 million).
That means the administration must still find ways to streamline in other areas, Swinson said.
“We are continuing to go through department budgets line by line,” Browning told the board.
With each one he said, staff is asking “is it required.” If not, “what value does it bring?”
“We’re going to make some really tough choices ,” Browning said.
Board members thanked the staff for working to improve pay, noting it’s a critical piece to keeping strong teachers in front of Pasco County students. At the same time, USEP president Don Peace reminded the board that salaries are but one of the issues that must be resolved.
The sides still disagree about how to manage performance evaluations, a key item that derailed the last round of bargaining. He expressed hope they could resolve their differences much more quickly in the new round of talks.
“It is advantageous to our students to do something that helps us achieve this goal,” Peace said.