Pasco Schools employees union seeks tax referendum to support pay raises

Published Sept. 17, 2018

The president of Pasco County's school employees union is calling for a referendum in which voters can decide whether to increase local property taxes so teachers and staff can get raises.

"USEP feels that the burden for coming up with additional dollars for the legislative shortfall should be presented to the voters in the form of a ballot initiative, a referendum, to augment the general revenue, rather than to place this burden on the backs of a portion of our teachers," Peace said in a recent six-minute video responding to the district's conceptual plan of lengthening teacher work days in exchange for more money.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has suggested one possible way to improve teacher pay is to extend the work day by 30 minutes. Middle and high school teachers would teach an additional period per day.

That move, Browning said, would allow the district to reduce its staffing, freeing up millions of dollars it could put into wages for those who remain. He anticipated that teachers whose jobs are eliminated in the move would be absorbed into other positions.

Browning sent a video explanation of the idea — which would require collective bargaining approval with USEP — to all teachers, along with a request for input.

Peace's video, emailed to all district employees, came a day later.

In his comments, Peace made clear his organization's disdain for the "6 of 7 plan," which district officials have likened to the Hillsborough County school district's work model.

"Trying to be creative is appreciated," Peace said, "but this plan would essentially require more work, and more work time, for a disproportional salary adjustment. And therefore we believe it is not a salary increase."

He continued to note places where the district's comparison to Hillsborough are not entirely accurate. Yes, he said, Hillsborough teachers do work eight-hour days.

But Hillsborough high school teachers work six of eight class periods, not six of seven, Peace said. They still get a full 50-minute planning period and a lunch break during the regular student day, he noted, where Pasco's concept would move planning time to before or after classes.

Beyond such discrepancies, Peace went on, the union continues to believe that money exists in the district budget for "real raises" this year.

"Do you really feel this new idea is an improvement in your work life? We believe all it is really paying you for is additional work time. That's not a true salary increase," he said.

School Board members have said it's their priority to provide raises, to keep the district competitive with its neighbors. During budget deliberations, they asked the administration to come up with ideas to cut other spending areas so the district can put more money into salaries.

But at a workshop on the subject, the board did not accept a single idea, and instead decided to see how much money is available through funds rolled over from 2017-18 and from state revenue because of unanticipated enrollment growth.

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The sides have not held negotiations since.

DISPUTE RESOLUTION: Plans to create a clearinghouse to handle complaints about Pasco County schools have not come to fruition as officials initially planned.

The most recent setback: Hilda Martin, who left the principal job at Marlowe Elementary in the spring to lead the new division, is taking an assistant principal post at Gulf High School.

Martin had only begun to investigate how the dispute resolution office would operate and what types of issues it would handle.

"Returning to school-based leadership was a big motivator and having the opportunity to grow in a new level … was exciting," Martin said via email about her decision.

Her transfer leaves the dispute resolution concept in limbo, with no staff or procedures in place. For the time being, parents and others are to continue filing complaints with the school principals, and then to assistant superintendents if they are dissatisfied with the results.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said in introducing the idea that he wanted to create a system through which parents and others could go to a centralized office for assistance, without having to send concerns directly to him. He also suggested the effort would help create a consistency in responses.

His staff made the proposal based on a system in place in Broward County schools.

The Pasco district continues to evaluate the model and seek people to operate it, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

SCHOOL CHOICE: Parents seeking to send their children to schools other than their assigned schools will face a new set of deadlines this fall, as the district streamlines its processes.

Instead of separating the applications between magnet and open enrollment windows, the district will combine the types of applications but divide them by school level.

As a result, all middle- and high-school choice applications will be accepted between Dec. 3 and Dec. 14, with acceptances delivered in early February.

All elementary school applications will be accepted between Jan. 8 and Jan. 18, with acceptance letters going out in late February.

Parents will file all documents online in the MyStudent system.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at Follow @jeffsolochek.