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Pasco schools aim to catch up on pay with 5% raise offer for support staff

Many employees would get more — a 52 % bump — as the district works to make up for lost time.
Pasco County school district negotiator Tom Neesham, left, and his United School Employees of Pasco counterpart, Lynn Cavall, discuss pay proposals during contract talks Tuesday at the school district headquarters.
Pasco County school district negotiator Tom Neesham, left, and his United School Employees of Pasco counterpart, Lynn Cavall, discuss pay proposals during contract talks Tuesday at the school district headquarters. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Aug. 2|Updated Aug. 3

After years of noncompetitive support staff pay and minimal raises, the Pasco County school district on Tuesday made a contract offer aimed at making up for lost time.

During collective bargaining, the district proposed increasing all support employees’ wages to at least $15 per hour, as mandated by state law. It would make the pay retroactive to July 1, which the state does not require.

To get there, the district would spend just over $18 million, which is nearly seven times more money than it put into staff pay with one-time supplements last year. About $12 million is tied to the state’s minimum wage rule, while the district is committing the rest.

The plan would boost all 3,639 workers’ hourly rate by at least 5%, with nearly 450 of them getting raises of 52%, according to a district analysis.

It also would include provisions aimed at eliminating wage compression, which has some longtime staff members earning the same amount as less experienced new hires or, in some cases, the same amount as people they supervise.

With a nod to the critical need for bus drivers and assistants, the district further offered a “return to work” one-time payment of up to $2,500 for eligible transportation employees. There’s about $155,000 in federal funds available for that purpose.

“We need to get kids safely to school,” employee relations supervisor Tom Neesham said, noting that the district cannot accommodate for transportation vacancies as easily as it can for openings within buildings. The extra amount “is showing them, ‘You’re valued (and) we want you to stay.’”

All of this money would come on top of any raises provided by a local-option property tax, if voters approve it on Aug. 23. Officials said the two efforts combined could give Pasco a competitive edge in hiring.

Lynn Cavall, the United School Employees of Pasco lead negotiator, previously had asked the district to increase all workers’ pay to at least $15 an hour, with a 6% raise for those who had been earning $14.15 or more.

Cavall said she had some questions about certain aspects of the district proposal relating to rolling several supplements into permanent pay, specifics about health insurance benefits and starting the pay rates in July as opposed to September.

But overall, she said, “I think we’re close.”

The sides are scheduled to meet again Thursday.

On Wednesday, teacher contract negotiations are set to continue. The union has asked for a 3.35% cost-of-living adjustment in addition to 2.65% coming from the state teacher salary allocation, while the district has offered a cost-of-living bump of 0.85%.

Employee relations supervisor Nora Light said the district’s first pass was conservative, and she expected to go higher. She sounded optimistic that, unlike last year when talks dragged into May and yielded no permanent raise, this year the process could be done quickly.

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“I’m really hoping in the next week we’ll be able to sign this,” Neesham added.

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