Pinellas, Pasco school districts still have no teacher pay agreements

With costs rising, they had hoped to get money into employee pockets sooner.
The Hillsborough County School District and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, shown at negotiations in February, have agreed on a contract for 2021-22. Pinellas and Pasco counties have not made as much progress.
The Hillsborough County School District and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, shown at negotiations in February, have agreed on a contract for 2021-22. Pinellas and Pasco counties have not made as much progress. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]
Published Mar. 4, 2022|Updated Mar. 4, 2022

As several school districts across Florida including Hillsborough County settle teacher contract terms for the year, leaders of the bargaining units in Pinellas and Pasco counties have begun feeling the heat to get deals done, too.

But as spring break nears, neither have come close to accomplishing the goal of getting more money into workers’ wallets to help them cope with inflation.

Related: Progress slow as Tampa Bay teachers, districts work out contracts

Representatives for the two sides in Pinellas have sparred over issues such as veteran teacher wages and paid planning time, coming close to an economic agreement but unable to seal it. They meanwhile remain far apart on terms relating to work conditions.

The negotiating teams in Pasco, by contrast, have nearly completed their non-monetary language issues, but they haven’t made any offers relating to salaries.

Both districts are aiming to meet next week, to attempt to make additional progress.

Pinellas talks ‘a little bit difficult’

If they resume, Pinellas teacher talks come on the heels of the district’s non-instructional school personnel arriving at a deal. Pinellas Educational Support Professionals Association president Nelly Henjes announced Wednesday via YouTube that everyone in that unit will get 3.25 percent raises, retroactive to July, plus a $350 supplement.

She added that bargaining with the district was “a little bit difficult.” Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi has said much the same, suggesting the district administration has been playing hardball over issues.

They would not agree to the union’s proposed longevity supplement for veteran educators, for instance, leaving a shrinking gap between new and longer-serving teachers. They’re discussing a 3.25 percent average pay raise, with closer to 5 percent at the bottom and less than 2 percent at the top.

The district offer, which remains in play, also includes added planning days paid at employees’ regular hourly rate, which would benefit veterans more. All told, the financial offer on the table totals about $38 million.

The district has suggested holding a ratification vote on the financial package once it’s complete, and then moving on to the other contract terms. The union has rejected that idea, raising concerns that the administration would not come back to the table and let much of the unsettled language expire.

“It’s a full book, which means everything must be agreed,” Velardi said. “It has to all go at one time.”

Assistant superintendent for human resources Paula Texel said the district is “willing and ready and able” to have discussions over the contract language, and intends to do so. But it would like to get the money part done sooner.

The union has requested to meet with district officials on Wednesday.

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Budget adjustments slow Pasco bargaining

In Pasco, officials from both sides had agreed to postpone talks about money while they looked at whether any additional funds without state strings exist.

“First proposals have not been passed yet,” said Kathy Scalise, employee relations director.

They met Friday afternoon to discuss if any recurring revenue sources like that are available, and scheduled a bargaining session for next week Thursday.

“It’s our interest to put as much recurring money into people’s pockets as possible,” said Don Peace, United School Employees of Pasco president. “With the cost of living through the roof, the quicker we can get this done, the better.”

Talks had appeared to be advancing smoothly, until the district received the state’s third report on student enrollment. It indicated that the district, like others across Florida, would see its budget allocation adjusted downward to accommodate for increased demand for state vouchers and scholarships.

District officials said the amount coming from the county’s share was more than triple that of the previous year, which caught financial planners off guard. Now that those calculations have been completed, the involved parties anticipated being able to move ahead.

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