The United School Employees of Pasco submitted its long-awaited 2014-15 pay proposal on Thursday, asking for 5 percent more money for teachers.
The amount would be split, with half representing a cost-of-living increase and half going into a performance pay schedule in which teachers with better evaluations would get larger shares. Lawmakers required districts to adopt salary plans incorporating merit by this year.
In all, the request would cost $10.58 million. The plan, which also calls for a $219 per person increase in benefits coverage, does not include non-instructional staff. District budget documents have shown a figure for raises closer to $3.4 million for all employees, although superintendent Kurt Browning said he had room to revise spending allocations.
"We're trying to do the best we can for our people," USEP lead negotiator Jim Ciadella said. "We are starting with a number we hope is somewhere in the ballpark."
Betsy Kuhn, the district's lead negotiator, said the USEP's initial offer is "not feasible with what we have. But this is a proposal we can work with."
She said the district agrees with the salary schedule model the union suggested. In fact, she added, the administration is looking at ways to add pay and supplements in areas the USEP did not contemplate. It does not, however, support giving raises to teachers rated as needs improvement or developing in the evaluation system, Kuhn noted.
USEP president Kenny Blankenship said the union wanted to get extra pay for teachers rated "developing" because many of them are new educators still learning the ropes. "That is exactly where a new teacher should be on the performance scale," he said, contending they should see raises even as they hone their craft.
Last year, the sides reached a compromise that provided average raises of 4.7 percent.
Overall, Kuhn said she was pleased that the contract talks had begun moving again after weeks of tension. The sides agreed on terms for teachers in the Lacoochee Elementary turnaround effort and at the elementary schools adding reading instruction because they were in the Lowest 300. They also continued to discuss creating a tobacco-free district, but did not reach resolution.
Ciadella said he was encouraged by the progress. He noted that some issues such as midyear teacher transfers might not get settled this year while others are more likely to stick around to the end. One anticipated sticking point is the future of the district's early retirement plan.
Browning has made clear he wants to eliminate the program. Blankenship says a growing number of members have called the USEP asking for it to remain in place.
"That may be the last stumbling block," Ciadella said.
The sides expect to meet weekly each Thursday until they complete a tentative contract.