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  1. Education

Pasco County teachers approve contract; raises to appear in this week's checks.

Pasco County school district teachers should begin seeing raises in their paychecks beginning May 17, after they overwhelmingly supported new contract terms for the school year that's about to end.

In three days of balloting, 93 percent of those who responded backed the deal. It came after months of negotiation, a declared impasse and federal mediation.

The School Board unanimously approved the agreement on Tuesday.

Under the deal, salaries will rise from 1.7 percent to 2.7 percent, depending on the teacher's type of contract and level of performance evaluation. Anyone hired Jan. 1 or later will get 1.1 percent.

The increases are permanent and separate from the state-supported Best and Brightest bonus program. Teachers should get retroactive pay as the new rates are applied back to the start of the school year, in checks due in mid-June.

The settlement in place, representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco and the district administration expect to head back to the table in a few weeks to begin bargaining for the next contract year that starts in July. School Board members have said they hope to find more money for salaries going forward, noting that the district's wages are proving non-competitive with surrounding school systems.

Union president Don Peace said he hoped the board and administration would put employees first when deciding how to spend.

"This agreement brings to a focal point teacher evaluations and shows the need to prioritize employee salaries No. 1 in the budgetary process," Peace said. "We hope this effort will help the district recruit and retain highly qualified people to give our students the best opportunity for success."

The Legislature increased its unrestricted funding to school districts by $75 per student, with lawmakers saying they hope the money will help boost pay. Some school district leaders across Florida have said that much of the increase could be absorbed by rising insurance, utility and other costs.

SECURITY MEASURES: As part of ongoing efforts to make schools safer, the Pasco County school district is launching a new computerized system aimed at improving responses to emergencies.

The district will pay about $67,000 a year for the CrisisGo program, which will provide a quicker way for employees to report crises immediately to law enforcement and throughout the school system. They will be able to open files on any variety of situations, review response protocols if they need to, fill in the information fields and send the details to agencies that can respond.

The application will send out alerts as needed. It also will include campus maps for employees and first responders, who also will have access, to help quickly locate any reported incidents.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the administration was considering the use of this program for a few years. The 2018 shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County propelled the district into action, and it has been working with the company to compile all the necessary documents to create a workable model for Pasco.

Funding will come from state and federal grants directed at improving school security, made available since the Parkland shooting.

"This is what we identified as one of our priorities," Cobbe said.

Since 2018, the district also has hired a director of school security, created a school guardian program for all elementary schools, maintained its resource officer model for middle and high schools, heightened security measures at after-school events, and added new cameras and door locks.

Cobbe said CrisisGo will be introduced to employees over the next few weeks and implemented during the 2019-20 school year. Employees will be encouraged, but not required, to use it on their own phones and are to have it installed on their district computers.

ADVANCED MATH: Pasco High School appears likely to offer Advanced Placement calculus after all.

Some students and a teacher raised concerns in March that the east-county school would not have enough enrollment to allocate an instructor for the course, which can earn students college credit if they score high enough on the final exam.

Even in early May, the worry remained that teens seeking the most demanding math curriculum might not have access to the class.

But principal Kari Kadlub has told the district administration that despite having only 18 students for the course, she will be able to fit it into the schedule without negatively affecting other courses. The school will continue to look for other students who might qualify for AP calculus to further full the period.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at Follow @jeffsolochek.