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Pasco teachers, district reach pay raise deal

The sides agreed to a base salary of $44,820 for all teachers, with a 3 percent increase for those above the new minimum.

All Pasco County teachers stand to receive a minimum 3 percent pay raise this year under new contract terms that representatives for the school district and teachers union hashed out late Monday.

The deal, which still must be formally approved by union members and the School Board, would boost the district’s base teacher pay to $44,820 from the previous $39,845. That’s nearly $3,000 beneath the $47,500 that state officials targeted when they allocated $500 million to improve classroom teachers’ entry level salaries.

Anyone already above the district’s newly proposed base would get a 3 percent raise. And unlike the state plan, the district intends to spread the raises among all its instructional staff, not just those with classroom assignments.

Earlier in the year, chief finance officer Olga Swinson projected that raise for more veteran teachers would not reach 1.5 percent. By delaying an agreement, though, the district finance staff was able to more thoroughly review its accounts and find additional money for the higher increases, district lead negotiator Nora Light said.

Related: Pasco base teacher pay could exceed $45,000 — if budgets don’t change

“None of us were here a month ago,” Light said. “It just shows we made the right decision to work together and wait.”

Lynn Cavall, lead negotiator for the United School Employees of Pasco, said her bargaining team was “excited” that the district was able to improve its offer from original estimates. She also praised the move to provide more equity in raises, by including all educators to the extent possible.

“We are ... very happy that the board and district have looked high and low for these funds,” Cavall said, acknowledging that the state’s restrictions on the available money affected the discussions.

Both sides also noted that the agreement, though better than initially expected, left some glaring problems intact.

Most critically, it creates a “compressed” salary situation in which a new teacher with no experience could be earning the same amount as a teacher with several years in the classroom. The proposed new teacher placement schedule shows a teacher entering the district with zero years would have the identical starting pay as one coming in with 15 years.

“That’s a problem and we know that,” Light said.

Additionally, although Pasco’s base pay would surpass $40,000 for the first time, its wages would remain below what teachers can earn in neighboring Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

To arrive at its final deal, Pasco ended a $1,568 stipend that some educators had received for working an added 30 minutes per day, and also removed the requirement to work that extra time. It then shifted that money plus other funds into recurring salaries, on which future raises would be based.

The district also agreed to increase its contribution to health insurance benefits by $153.36 per employee.

If approved, the raises would be retroactive to July 1. Teachers would see an increase to the new minimum or get a 3 percent raise, whichever is higher.

After the sides concluded their talks, negotiators for the district and non-instructional staff began their bargaining on pay. They reached an agreement just after 9 p.m., also for 3 percent raises.

The deal includes moving the employees at the bottom of the pay scale to at least $10 per hour.