Pasco school district salaries under fire as elections loom

A critic notes the increase in the number of six-figure salaries within the administration.
Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
Published Jan. 30, 2020

The Pasco County school district has more employees earning six-figure salaries than ever before.

In 2013-14 — superintendent Kurt Browning’s first full year at the helm — two top administrators (not including Browning) were paid more than $100,000.

That number has risen slowly to 15. Some of the raises have surpassed the average increases provided to other employees through their negotiated contracts.

The information has some critics buzzing, with the superintendent and two School Board members up for election in August. The district leadership is pushing back.

Trinity-area resident Jim Stanley, who has become one of Browning’s most vocal detractors, has taken to social media to denounce the trend. He’s approached the issue from two fronts.

Listing the rising salary — from $110,000 in 2013 to $133,277 in 2019 — of one top official without naming that person, Stanley questioned whether other district workers have received similar-sized raises.

“To my friends in Pasco -- especially those who are teachers here -- have your raises been this high this consistently?” he asked on Facebook.

The annual raise for this employee matched the average negotiated teacher raise for all the listed years. But the dollar figure was higher, as would be expected when starting from a larger base.

Stanley also raised red flags about the cumulative total of the administrative raises, which rose 4.15 percent from 2018 to 2019. Part of the reason was big increases to a handful of officials.

Without naming him, Stanley specifically noted planning director Chris Williams. Stanley has frequently lambasted Williams since fighting the district’s Mitchell High School rezoning attempts, which included a 2018 judge’s order finding the district advisory panel violated the Sunshine Law in its procedure (since changed).

Williams received a 8.7 percent raise. Teacher and school-related personnel raises at the same time were below 3 percent.

“I wonder how many Pasco teachers and taxpayers think that’s fair,” Stanley pondered, again on Facebook.

As this perspective has circulated on social media, Browning’s administration has offered its own view. It started by targeting the School Board, which has regularly called for improved employee pay and approved raises for administrators to match the percentages negotiated for others.

Calling the online criticism “misleading” and “incomplete,” district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe stressed in an email to board members that the amount of money approved for teachers and other employees is being distributed as bargained. She further noted that many classes of workers received higher raises than the averages, based on their evaluations and other factors.

“Each year, the district makes an effort to address issues of internal and external equity for specific positions or categories of positions,” Cobbe wrote. “As an example, this year, we provided an average increase of 7.4 percent to most classroom Instructional Assistants to help bring them inline with the pay in other school systems.”

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That also includes some administrators, Cobbe told the Tampa Bay Times. Williams and others, such as assistant superintendent Kim Poe, had salaries that did not match their job descriptions and were not competitive with others, she said, and they got higher raises as a result.

State data indicate that Pasco’s average teacher salary in 2018-19 was $43,079, compared to the state average of $48,486. The same report shows that the district’s administrative salaries also were well below the state average for like positions, and as with the teachers, less than neighboring districts with which it competes for workers.

The state also reported that Pasco had more employees listed in several categories than other, sometimes larger, districts.

UNION VOTE: It’s almost time for the United School Employees of Pasco to begin its campaign for its leadership posts.

The elections come once every three years, so not everyone might know all the rules. The school district’s employee relations office has sent school leaders a reminder not to involve themselves in the process.

“It is best not to get into discussions with employees regarding these upcoming elections,” department director Kathy Scalise told principals and assistant principals.

At the same time, she noted, administrators should be aware of the district’s policies relating to what essentially amounts to employee political activity.

“Please note that candidates cannot use the district’s electronic network or courier or USEP bulletin boards for distribution of campaign materials,” Scalise advised. “Candidates may use worksite mailboxes to distribute campaign literature between February 5, 2020 – April 30, 2020 upon notification of the worksite supervisor.”

Union president Don Peace faces a challenge from veteran teacher and union member Lisa Mazza. The other key position in contention is the secretary-treasurer, where former union president Kenny Blankenship is trying to unseat incumbent Cheryl Vinson.

NO GUNS ALLOWED: A custodian at Bexley Elementary School in Land O’ Lakes has resigned after being removed for having a gun in his vehicle on campus.

Jeffrey Smith was escorted from the school on Jan. 22 by law enforcement, who had received information that he had a weapon, which is not permitted in district policy or state law.

They determined that the gun was legally owned, properly secured and never posed a threat to anyone. Principal Vicki Wolin told families in an automated phone call that the school experienced no disruptions.

Still, the district placed Smith on administrative leave over the incident. He left the district a few days later.