LAND O’LAKES — Representatives for the Pasco County school district and its employee union gathered Friday to try to reach a deal on raises for the school year that’s about to end.
The district had made its “best and final” offer a day earlier, unflinching in its position that it would offer 4 percent one-time supplements rather than the permanent raises the United School Employees of Pasco preferred.
That wasn’t good enough for the team representing the school-related personnel, such as classroom aides and bus drivers.
“I’m asking you to give them one more percent,” union lead negotiator Lynn Cavall told the district officials, suggesting if the district wouldn’t move on permanent raises, the increase in the supplement amount was the least it could do for its lowest-paid workers.
Cavall noted that a 4 percent supplement would give most teachers between $1,700 and $2,800, while more than 1,100 non-instructional staff members would get $500 or less. She added that the district might have more money for the staff if the School Board had not already committed about $2 million for raises to non-bargaining employees, who range from office secretaries to top administrators.
The union previously asked for 7 percent raises for bus drivers, who have been in short supply, resulting most recently in the district’s decision to end bus rides starting in the fall for all middle and high school students who live within a two mile radius of their school.
To punctuate the point, about two dozen bus drivers protested outside the negotiations on Friday, holding signs demanding better pay while waving at passersby on U.S. Highway 41. Pasco drivers are paid about $2 less per hour than their counterparts in neighboring counties.
District lead negotiator Tom Neesham took a break from the talks to call the superintendent’s office to ask for advice. He returned and said the district had a finite amount of money — $15.67 million — to put into supplements for all the bargaining units.
If the United School Employees of Pasco wanted to find a way to redistribute that money, Neesham said, the administration would have no objections.
“We can work toward that and see if there is another way,” he told the union team, stressing repeatedly that there would be no added money.
For one group to get more, he said, the other will have to give something up.
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He also reiterated that the district remains committed to beginning negotiations for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which begins in July, as soon as the current round of talks ends. And in those talks, Neesham said, the district has made clear its intention of bringing recurring raises to the table.
Cavall urged the district to show some good faith by offering raises this year, since it appears certain the raises will begin within months anyway. But Neesham said the administration just doesn’t want to commit the money now, without having a signed state budget to rely upon.
The negotiations affect about 8,700 teachers and school support employees.
The district continued its talks later Friday with teachers, but the issue of moving money so that support employees could get paid more did not come up. Discussions centered on whether the district would guarantee raises for teachers immediately on the start of the 2022-23 school year.
The two sides appeared close to an agreement but got hung up on wording and will return to the bargaining table on Monday.
The School Board voted earlier this month to ask Pasco County voters to consider a special property tax of up to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value to raise money for better employee pay. The measure is slated to appear on the November ballot, although the School Board will consider moving it to August when the board meets next week.
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