LAND O' LAKES — Few people expected the Pasco County school district and employees union to reach a contract deal before classes began in August, as had often been the goal in past years.
Many had hoped, though, to have an agreement in place before winter break in December, after local and state financial details became more clear in September and October.
After the sides held their final bargaining session of 2018, the target for providing salary hikes had changed to the week of March 16 — if everything goes smoothly.
"At this point, if we can ratify by mid-February, payroll believes they can have raises in paychecks by spring break," employee relations director Kathy Scalise told United School Employees of Pasco officials. Any later, "we'll be looking at late spring, early summer."
The chances of finishing up before Valentine's Day didn't look too bright, though.
United School Employees of Pasco representatives refused to consider the district's latest offer on teacher performance evaluations. They said the administration's position that the specifics aren't up for negotiation was wrongheaded and worthy of heading to an impasse hearing with a special magistrate.
"We are definitely at loggerheads over evaluations," union teacher negotiator Val Smith said.
But the sides disagree on more than that one point.
They have gone back and forth over pay raises, with the district saying its "best and final" offer is 2 percent and the union countering at 2.5 percent.
That difference appeared the only stumbling block for the school-related personnel, whose bargaining team was expected to sign a deal in December before it walked away from the table.
The teachers' unit had a longer list of concerns.
It did not like the district's proposal to completely eliminate seniority from the criteria used when considering layoffs or involuntary transfers. Scalise said state law no longer allows seniority as a factor, while Smith argued that it could be used, albiet not as the primary reason for a decision.
The district has rejected the union's proposed distribution model for pay increases, which would give larger shares to veteran teachers remaining on a professional services contract than those teachers who move to an annual contract with performance funding attached. Teachers hired since 2011 are not eligible for professional services contracts.
The sides also have not agreed on the training requirements for teachers who work at schools under state-mandated improvement plans.
Smith and Scalise said they would return to the table in mid-January to talk through the issues one more time. But even in that decision, they spoke of items they would likely take to impasse if they cannot settle.
The last time the union declared contract talks at an impasse, two years ago, the district had offered a wage and benefit package of 3.5 percent, while the union sought 3.75 percent for salaries, not including benefits. They did not arrive at a deal for about five months after that.
Anticipating a drawn-out affair, assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley has begun making arrangements to provide 2 percent raises to the more than 1,100 district workers who are not part of collective bargaining. He told the School Board he might have an item for its consideration in January.
"These non-represented employees have been waiting patiently, and without any other demands, for their salary adjustments as negotiations with USEP have stretched out for more than 6 months," Shibley told the board via email.
The raises for the non-bargaining staff, including administrators, would total about $1.5 million. The district has set aside about $9.3 million for the bargaining units, and has said it has no additional money beyond that for higher raises.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @jeffsolochek.