The Pasco County School Board on Tuesday unanimously ratified a teacher contract for the academic year that ends in less than two months.
The tentative agreement, which was to go to teachers for their consideration on Wednesday, provides $4.9 million more for salaries than the year before, or about 2 percent. Of that amount, half will go to base pay and half will boost performance pay for teachers on annual contracts.
The deal also includes fully paid employee health insurance. It also leaves in place current terms for job evaluations, while representatives from the district and United Employees of Pasco look into possible changes for the future.
Evaluations, along with teacher training schedules, were among the handful of disputed issues that kept the sides from reaching a deal sooner. The union declared the talks had arrived at an impasse in January, and it wasn't until an April mediation session that negotiators settled their differences.
Before the board voted, union operations director Jim Ciadella encouraged members to support the deal. Beyond that, he also urged the board to put more emphasis on increasing teacher pay rates.
"We hope this board and district find a way going forward to prioritize salaries, as we continue to fall behind our neighboring counties," Ciadella said.
Board member Megan Harding, a classroom teacher before her November election, said that was a key issue for her.
"I already have had two friends get jobs in Pinellas County," Harding told her colleagues. Without finding more money, she continued, "I am afraid we are going to lose the best of the best. ... I want future educators to have this be their first choice."
The union plans to count teachers' ballots on Friday.
Expecting approval, the district payroll department has begun the work necessary to implement the agreement. The goal is to have the new pay rates included in May 17 checks, with retroactive back pay available to eligible teachers as a lump sum in June 21 checks.
CHARTER SCHOOLS: Three new charter schools could be on their way to Pasco County in 2021.
Two would be operated by Broward County-based Charter Schools USA, which runs Union Park Charter Academy in Wesley Chapel. That school, which opened in the fall, would be the model for the two kindergarten through eighth-grade "innovation preparation" academies proposed by Florida Educational Charter Foundation.
The third would be organized by Palm Beach County-based R.I.S.E. Charter Schools, which does not have any current campuses, but plans to open one soon.
Each has some local representation on its board. But Pasco School Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley suggested the district would like to see more.
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"We are really hoping the members are local, because those are really our most successful charters," Crumbley said before the board voted to approve the three requests.
Other board members expressed reservations about allowing the charters, noting the district staff found areas in their applications where their proposals did not fully meet state expectations. Rather than reject the proposals, though, the board members said they'd keep a watchful eye on whether the charters achieve their goals.
"I hope these particular charter schools ... are going to fulfill the original intent of charter schools," vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said.
All the schools are expected to open in areas with high population growth. Combined, they aim to serve about 2,000 students.
Pasco County has 10 charter schools, not including Pasco MYcroSchool, for which the district has said it intends to cancel its contract.
PUBLIC COMMENT: As they prepared to begin video recording meetings, Pasco County School Board members decided to change their rules for residents who want to make comments.
Those new procedures took effect on Tuesday. And some of the speakers weren't impressed.
Pat Rodgers, who has become a regular board attendee to criticize the district's transgender student procedures, complained that the board's decision to hear speakers on topics not appearing on the agenda only at the end of the meeting had the effect of pretending the speakers didn't exist. The notion that the board will not video record or stream those comments furthered that concern.
But board members were steadfast in their resolve to reorganize community input, saying it would make the meetings more efficient.
"This gives us a chance to get the business that has to be dealt with now over with," board chairwoman Alison Crumbley said. "That way, people at the meeting for a specific agenda item can leave."
Under the new process, speakers who want to say something about an item appearing on the agenda must fill out a green card. They can talk at the start of the meeting, before the board takes any actions.
Each speaker will continue to receive three minutes to comment. The board intends to hold to its hour set aside for the public input.
If any of the hour remains after everyone has talked about the agenda items, the time left is offered at the end of the meeting for comments about items not on the agenda. Those speakers fill out pink cards.
The board moved to split the time, in part, because it did not want to include the non-agenda commentary on whatever meeting videos it eventually puts online. The goal is for the board to begin recording its meetings in July, after adopting a policy on how it will work.
Officials' rationale was that they wanted to be cautious of inadvertently revealing student personal information, noting some speakers in the past have talked about private details of children not their own.
But the move also came after several months during which many speakers dominated the public input section with comments about transgender student rights and related issues, none of which was scheduled for board action.
Board members have said they want to allow people to offer their views, but they do not want the meetings to become soapboxes for people to espouse political views just to get them on camera. Several other school boards have taken similar actions, including the Hillsborough County board, which stopped broadcasting its public comments earlier this year.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at firstname.lastname@example.org or . Follow @jeffsolochek.