1. Opinion

Teacher pay tightens tough school budget

Published May 9, 2013

State lawmakers' good intentions toward Pasco's teachers are welcome, but the pot of money coming from Tallahassee won't fix a constrained school district budget for the coming year.

The Legislature's allocation for teacher raises — $11.6 million is Pasco's share — can't be used to compensate non-instructional employees like classroom aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and maintenance personnel. That rule regrettably separates support personnel from the faculty and also treats non-teaching school workers differently than the rest of state government employees who also will get salary increases under the 2014 state budget.

As a result, the district is now trying to find $3.5 million to give across-the-board increases to the support staff to match the raises for teachers and principals that will average 4.75 percent. (The state pay, tied to teacher performance, gives $2,500 to teachers rated as "effective'' and up to $3,500 to those scored as "highly effective.'' Under last year's criteria, 98.4 percent of Pasco's teachers would have earned a raise.)

The state benevolence comes two years after teachers and all public employees absorbed a 3 percent salary reduction under state-mandated pension contributions. The district also asked Pasco teachers to take an additional 1.5 percent cut in 2011 through forced furloughs to balance the budget.

That district search for more money won't be easy. It comes on the heels of $17 million in budget cuts that included eliminating or reassigning 265 positions including media specialists, literacy coaches and technology specialists, and asking for $2.6 million worth of givebacks from the union.

And the raises are just part of the equation. The district is anticipating a shortfall of nearly $8 million largely due to new requirements to pay community college tuition for dual enrollment students, increased retirement contributions and its own goal to add two days of teacher training on the Common Core standards.

The school district balanced its current budget with $19.5 million in one-time funds from reserves, capital construction and other accounts outside the general fund. The School Board again instructed superintendent Kurt Browning not to repeat that tactic which leaves he and the board with "some real deep soul-searching on cuts,'' he said. Browning suggested that could include limiting interscholastic sports or eliminating positions focused on student support.

So, while Gov. Rick Scott was on his teacher pay-raise tour last week, the Pasco School Board and superintendent came to a realization separate from the political self-congratulations.

"We end up,'' said Browning, "with things not looking as rosy as they appear.''

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