Pasco teachers union blasts district pay raise proposal

People would rather keep their current work schedule than change it for an 8-12 percent increase, union leaders say.
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley tells the Pasco School Board about the administration's latest plan to boost teacher salaries during a June 18, 2019, workshop. Jeffrey Solochek
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley tells the Pasco School Board about the administration's latest plan to boost teacher salaries during a June 18, 2019, workshop. Jeffrey Solochek
Published September 11

Citing overwhelming opposition from members, United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace this week denounced the school district’s latest teacher pay raise proposal.

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 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’s concept would divide the staff unnecessarily. 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.

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, 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.”

“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 another possibility. He reiterated his call for a voter referendum on a local property tax increase to support teacher pay and other school district operational needs. Browning said he would not recommend such an election at this time.

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."

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.

HURRICANE DAYS: The Pasco County school district’s student calendar might show hurricane makeup days smack dab in the planned Thanksgiving week off.

But district officials are telling parents, students and staff members not to worry about having the five-day break, or the two-week winter vacation, interrupted to account for the time missed because of Hurricane Dorian preparations.

“We want to let them know they still have it,” district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, referring to the full holiday schedule.

The district intends to ask the Florida Department of Education to waive the missed instructional time, as has been practice in past hurricanes. If the state doesn’t approve the request, Cobbe said, the administration will look at how it might adjust class schedules, perhaps canceling a future early release day or non-student day, to deal with the situation.

But those changes would not come until the second semester, she said. Much of the decision will rest on whether any additional hurricanes force more missed days of classes.

“We will make a final determination after hurricane season,” Cobbe said.

PRONOUNS: When considering changes to the district’s sex education curriculum, superintendent Kurt Browning said he was fine with new lessons teaching children about how bodies work and what makes pregnancy occur.

He didn’t accept portions of a recommended curriculum that would rely heavily on gender-neutral language, rather than calling students boys and girls.

Browning noted as one example the chapter called “I Am What I Am.” The instructions suggest referring to “someone with a vulva,” as opposed to using the terms girls and women. The stated goal is to make the curriculum “inclusive of all genders and gender identities.”

“We are not teaching those lessons,” Browning said. “I don’t want those lessons taught in our schools. It goes beyond what I see as the bounds” of appropriate content.

School Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley also was strongly opposed to the lesson, which she and others had pointed out to them by astute community members in the time leading to their scheduled workshop.

“I am not for taking away pronouns,” Crumbley said.

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