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Teacher pay raises unlikely to come before winter break in Pasco

Negotiators are waiting for more details about the school district’s financial picture.

Every year, officials in charge of collectively bargaining contracts for Pasco County teachers say they hope to finish in time to put money into paychecks before the winter holidays.

They’ve issued no such goal this year — even though the state Legislature directed millions of dollars specifically toward teacher pay.

In fact, it’s that legislative action that has prompted the sides to go a bit slower. That’s because the money provided for raises must go primarily to the lowest-paid classroom teachers, with little left for veteran educators or other district employees.

If they acted now, Pasco’s base pay would increase to about $45,000, still well below the $47,500 that Gov. Ron DeSantis targeted. Those not affected by the base pay bump might get about 1.45 percent. By waiting, though, the district might generate more money for salaries through savings from things such as funded but unfilled positions.

The future of state revenue also remains in flux, with everyone’s eyes on Tallahassee to see if the Legislature will hold a special session to deal with economic shortfalls incurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Both the union and ourselves decided to wait and see where we are, and if we have any money” for extra raises, said Nora Light, the district’s chief negotiator for teacher contracts. “It could go either way.”

That’s why the sides have not put a pay package on the table yet, and have no specific plan to do so when they meet this week. With Thanksgiving week off, and then three weeks left until winter break, Light held out little expectation that they’ll reach an agreement on pay for the district’s approximately 5,000 teachers before the calendar year ends.

She noted that in the past few rounds, much of the money that the district has been able to put toward salaries has come from waiting to see if anything extra is generated in the second half of the fiscal year.

United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace could not be reached for comment. At a recent School Board meeting, he expressed optimism that the negotiations could yield positive results, and thanked the district for working with the association during difficult times.