As plans to close Pasco County’s Mittye P. Locke Elementary steam ahead, a discussion over whether the school’s teachers should get a bonus to stay through May has stoked a debate over fairness and stalled contract talks for the district’s instructional staff.
The School Board in October approved closing the school, citing low enrollment. It announced plans to open an early education center on the Port Richey campus instead.
Board members made clear they did not want to see teachers leave midway through the year, as has happened at other schools slated to close in the past.
“There’s an intense concern that everyone will jump ship” to protect their employment, said Nora Light, employee relations supervisor, who leads teacher contract talks for the district. Replacing them would be close to impossible, she added as “who in their right mind will take a job at a school that is closing?”
To protect against that result, the district offered $2,000 to teachers who remain employed at Mittye P. Locke from Jan. 3 through May 26. The money would come from one-time federal stimulus funds.
United School Employees of Pasco officials said they understood and agreed with the concept.
“If every teacher left and found a job elsewhere, you’d have a school full of subs,” president Don Peace said. “That’s not good for the kids.”
But the union opposes singling out one group of teachers for special treatment.
“We’ve already closed five schools in this district,” Peace said. “Nobody has gotten an incentive.”
To accomplish the district’s stated goal, the union proposed creating a new section within the contract that addresses incentives and transfers for teachers at schools slated for closure. Peace said its offer is more fair to teachers district-wide.
“What we were trying to do was create a protocol for Mittye P. Locke and all future school closings,” he said. “They only wanted to talk about Mittye P. Locke.”
Light, the district supervisor, said the union’s response wasn’t realistic because the district could not know if it would have money for incentives if a future closure is proposed. She planned to bring it back to the superintendent’s staff for review, but didn’t hold out hope for a deal.
The sides then would have to decide whether to keep talking about this subject, or drop it and move to ratifying the entire contract. They reached an agreement on raises months ago, and teachers already are seeing the added money in their paychecks.
But they will not discuss added increases, using the money from a recently approved property tax referendum, until the current contract is complete, Peace and Light said.
“We need to ratify for 2022-23 before we start on 23-24,” Light said.
As for students at Mittye P. Locke, the School Board on Tuesday will hold a public hearing on proposed new assignments for children now living in the school’s attendance zone.
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