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Pasco school district, employee union officials eye quick contract deal

Sides hope to offer more to workers not affected by the state’s teacher base salary increase.
Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco, on the left, present their latest pay request to the district's bargaining team during talks in 2019. They have not met in person for talks during 2020.
Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco, on the left, present their latest pay request to the district's bargaining team during talks in 2019. They have not met in person for talks during 2020. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times Staff ]
Published Jan. 4, 2021|Updated Jan. 4, 2021

After months of waiting, Pasco County school district workers soon could see pay raises.

Leaders of the district’s administration and employee union expressed optimism on Monday that they might conclude contract negotiations within a week, now that they have more specific financial information in hand.

The sides had agreed to slow their bargaining while waiting to learn whether the state would fully fund both in-person and live remote classes in the second semester, which begins Wednesday. With the revenue streams more certain, they are able to determine the size of any wage hikes the district can afford.

Lawmakers approved $500 million statewide to improve Florida’s base teacher salary, but did not include any money to increase pay for educators already above the base or for other categories of school employees. By waiting for a better idea how much would be available locally, the negotiators said they hoped to better the arrangement for that pool of workers who stood to gain little otherwise.

Related: Teacher pay raises unlikely to come before winter break in Pasco

As it stood, the district did not have enough to reach the state’s $47,500 target for minimum teacher pay, or to give the remaining employees more than 1.45 percent bumps. Both sides aimed to do better, if at all possible.

They’ve been talking informally for a while, and expect to resume formal discussions later this week or early next week.

“This is not a (union) vs. district situation,” said Don Peace, United School Employees of Pasco president. “This is caused by lousy legislation and the harebrained ideas of people in Tallahassee.”

The union is working with the district, Peace added, to “make the best of a bad situation.”

Nora Light, the district’s lead negotiator for teacher contracts, shared that perspective.

“Our goals are the same,” Light said. “We stand aligned to fulfill the state’s (salary) requirements and do justice to all of our teachers” and other staff.

She would not reveal the district’s latest planned proposal, which the School Board discussed at a December closed-door session. The details will come during collective bargaining.

Still, Light sounded certain that the sides could reach an agreement in short order.

“I firmly believe it is possible,” she said.

If they reach a tentative agreement, it would require ratification by the employees and the board.

Other area school districts, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, finished their contract talks earlier in the fiscal year.

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