Citing overwhelming opposition from members, United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace on Monday denounced the school district’s teacher pay raise proposal first aired in June.
The plan would eliminate about 250 middle and high school teaching positions, and have those who remain take an additional class per day, moving planning time to before or after school. The change, referred to in the district as the “six of six” plan, would generate about $15.7 million, paving the way to increase salaries by about 8 percent to 12 percent.
The proposal is a revision of a widely panned idea from a year ago.
Peace said the union’s survey of about 1,600 secondary teachers — those he said who would be most affected by the proposal — showed widespread disapproval for the latest iteration. A majority of the teachers who got the questionnaire responded, he said, and nearly 80 percent said they would rather stay with the current work arrangement and accept lower raises than agree to the district’s plan.
“This president and this organization cannot and will not support the concept of rewarding all employees by negatively impacting the time and work load of a significant portion of the bargaining unit,” Peace said in his video statement.
In an interview later, he said the district concept would divide the staff unnecessarily, by giving some workers added pay for doing nothing extra, while others bear the burden. Middle and high school teachers could lose planning time, while adding up to 35 more students to instruct and grade, while elementary school teachers would not see a major change to their schedules.
“I have a problem understanding that,” Peace said, “because division causes distrust.”
Superintendent Kurt Browning stressed that he had never put any specific plan on the table for negotiations. But he did want to bring the union leadership into the conversations early, Browning said, in order to discuss what a significant pay plan might look like.
“They have gotten upset with us when we’ve not included them on the ground floor of some of these initiatives that we’ve rolled out, and now they are not happy with us because we want to include them on the ground floor,” Browning said.
He criticized the union for being more concerned about internal struggles among groups, rather than focused on the “overall welfare of all district employees.” He further questioned how the USEP can complain that the district was dividing staff, while at the same time sending its survey to only about one third of the membership.
“If they want a formal proposal, maybe I will ask the board to go ahead and give one,” Browning said. “Then they will have to come to the table and talk abut what it is going to look like.”
The other option, he suggested, is to simply withdraw the idea and let the union take responsibility for raises being dependent on the added funding provided by state lawmakers each year.
Peace offered that another possibility exists. He reiterated his call for a voter referendum on a local property tax increase to support teacher pay and other school district operational needs.
“I think the public is ripe for supporting getting things done in the best manner possible for all students,” he said, noting that nearly two dozen counties across Florida passed such referendums in the most recent election cycle.
Browning said he would not recommend such an election at this time.
“I am not going to the voters and asking them to dig deeper in their pockets for something we have not addressed internally yet,” he said.
School Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley said she was disappointed with the turn of events.
“My greatest concern is, I want to give our teachers significant raises, and it just looks like we haven’t come to any conclusion on that yet,” Crumbley said. “I want to do something that is going to give these people more money."
The board has called for “meaningful” raises in the past, as it aims to make district pay rates competitive with surrounding communities.
If the sides cannot agree on the administration’s plan, she said, they should continue to seek opportunities. The answer might be a tax referendum, she said, adding quickly that she had not researched that idea enough to support or reject it. Or the solution might arise elsewhere.
“We have to find the right way,” Crumbley said.
The School Board is scheduled to have a closed door meeting Tuesday to discuss its next steps in negotiating with the USEP.