Magistrate recommends ways to resolve non-instructional contract disputes

Published Apr. 12, 2017

Five months after negotiations broke down, a special magistrate has issued his report to resolve contract disputes between the Pasco County School District and its non-instructional personnel.

His recommendations include a compromise on raises and job transfers, and support of the district's stance on leaves of absence.

The pay debate received the most attention.

The United School Employees of Pasco requested a 3.35 percent pay hike, claiming its members are underpaid. The district offered 2.7 percent, saying it could afford no more.

Magistrate Kenneth Starr called for a retroactive, across-the-board 3 percent raise.

Starr agreed that the school-related personnel are not paid well compared to area counterparts.

He suggested the district "has undisclosed ways to 'shift' funds to cover priority expenditures and, though it asserts the bargaining unit's requested salary increase will cost more than suggested by the union, it has failed to present any evidence as to the actual cost."

On job transfers, Starr also sought to split the difference. He agreed with the district that employees should not be able to dictate all the terms of where they work. However, he also found it unreasonable not to give current workers priority over outside applicants.

He recommended giving the staff seniority rights to existing open jobs, but proposed restrictions such as a limit on the number and frequency of transfers.

On leaves of absence, Starr sided with the district in cutting back the amount of leave an employee may take in a year before being deemed "on assignment" and losing protections.

Representatives from the USEP and district declined to comment on the ruling. Each said they wanted to confer with the other side.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said he would brief the School Board on the recommendations and seek direction. If the sides agree on the terms, the impasse would end. If not, the board would have the final say.

The sides still await a ruling from a different magistrate on teacher contract negotiations.

SAVE OUR GOATS: For many families thinking about school choice in Pasco County, Land O'Lakes High School gets high marks for its accelerated International Baccalaureate program.

To a smaller but dedicated core, it's the Agriculture Academy that matters. And supporters have raised concerns lately that the program is getting shorted.

They have seen their children forced into online courses, which they don't prefer. Parent Kim Ligocki told district officials that her daughter is learning the same lessons in the third year that she learned in the first.

They also worry that when maintenance requires the school's animals to be relocated in May, the move might not be temporary.

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That could hurt all of the students who have dedicated time to breeding the animals, and who seek more hands-on learning that is offered in other career academies. Plus, many students have no place to keep a goat or steer at home.

"We feel like we have no voice," parent Rebecca McFarlane recently told the School Board. She acknowledged a email campaign, saying the intent was not to annoy, but to get some help.

Superintendent Kurt Browning assured the families that the school will not shut down the agriculture program. And he assigned technical education director Terry Aunchman to review the situation.

Aunchman promptly headed to a meeting with teachers, students and parents to learn more.

In short order, he said, he found a solution that will let the animals stay. "Everything is good," Aunchman said.

From the parents' perspective, Aunchman brought a level of comfort that they didn't have previously.

"I look forward to working with you," parent Michele Christy told Aunchman. "Together we can keep LOLHS FFA strong & continue to build a successful program for our children."

CAMPAIGN TIME: Elections are more than a year away, but that isn't stopping Brian Staver from starting a campaign for Pasco County School Board.

Staver, who moved to Wesley Chapel from California 15 months ago, prefiled papers to run for the board's District 1 seat. Incumbent insurance executive Allen Altman is in his third term representing east Pasco.

Staver, a retiree, said he started early to collect petition signatures. He said he became interested in serving on the board after his own children refused to relocate to the area because they did not like the schools.

"I started doing research," Staver said. "Things need to be addressed. They need to be changed."

He said he would offer more specifics after formulating his campaign plan.

Qualifying for the election takes place in June 2018.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or Follow @jeffsolochek.