In Pasco, referendum money means raises averaging 9% for teachers, staff

Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S Solochek | May 5, 2023

School employees will see the money in their paychecks starting in July.

LAND O’ LAKES — When campaigning for a property tax referendum last August, Pasco County school district officials promised raises to all nonadministrative employees.

On Wednesday, representatives for the district and the workers agreed on exactly how much those raises would be.

In a quick negotiating session, the sides signed a deal that would provide teachers and support staff increases averaging about 9%, with veteran workers getting even more. Teacher payments would range from $2,000 to $7,245, based on years of teaching credit, while support staff would get between $.80 and $3.50 more an hour, depending on their years of service in the district.

The amounts will count toward their pensions and benefits, but are not recurring as they are dependent on voter approval. The referendum is good for four years, though school districts typically try to get the money renewed.

The measure received support from 59% of Pasco voters in August, setting up a new tax of up to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

“We are absolutely elated to put significant compensation increases into the pockets of employees, starting July 1,” said Jeff Larsen, United School Employees of Pasco business director.

For 2022-23, teachers got raises averaging 5.4%.

Tom Neesham, an employee relations supervisor for the district, said it was important to get an agreement in place before most employees leave for the summer.

“They’re going to know what their share of the referendum will be,” Neesham said, noting the complete charts will be posted on the district website by Thursday. “We made it clear we wanted it done this week.”

Kathy Scalise, the district’s director of employee relations, said the deal, which still requires ratification, accomplishes two important objectives.

It boosts teacher pay above the state goal of a minimum $47,500 salary, she said, which allows the district to use its state raise funding more freely. And it allows the district to direct more money to veteran teachers and staff, addressing a problem over time asfirst-year employees were earning nearly the same amount as those who have been around for years.

“Experience is being rewarded,” Larsen said.

Representatives for both sides also stressed that the agreement is only the first step in negotiations for the 2023-24 school year. Bargaining for teacher contracts resumes next week, employee relations supervisor Nora Light said, starting with language and then moving to whatever additional money is available.

“This is just one piece,” Neesham said.

Scalise said she hoped the deal will make Pasco more competitive with its neighbors as it looks to hire for the coming year. She noted that newly hired teachers will get a referendum supplement based on their years of teaching, just like current district educators.

She added that nonbargaining, nonadministrative employees are in line to receive raises similar to those negotiated on Wednesday.

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