The Pasco County School Board has voted to ask the Pasco County Commission to place a referendum for school district employee pay raises on the Aug. 23 primary ballot.
Initially, the school board had voted to seek to have the question placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. But during its May 3 meeting, the board voted to amend its original request.
Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd suggested the switch, in background materials contained in the board’s agenda packet.
He explained the rationale for the change this way: “I am making this recommendation for two reasons: This will eliminate any confusion between the salary referendum and the local infrastructure surtax (Penny for Pasco) that will be on the general election ballot.
“Additionally, nonpartisan school board races are being held during the August primary and the salary referendum fits well with the school board races.”
There was pushback on the request during the public comment portion of the board’s meeting.
Some parents were skeptical about the shift from the general election to the primary.
One said fewer voters participate in primary elections and thus, the vote will not be truly representative of the community, as a whole.
Another said that rather than raising taxes, there needs to be greater scrutiny in how the district spends its money.
Speakers said they support better pay for district personnel, but not through the referendum.
A representative for a group called Lift Up Pasco said the group is made up of volunteers who support the referendum and will be working to support its passage. They said the additional source of funding will improve education, and thus, will enhance the community, as a whole.
The referendum question asks voters to approve up to a maximum of 1 mil in funding to be designated for improving pay for teachers, bus drivers and other district personnel, except for administrators.
At an April 5 school board workshop on the topic, it was estimated that a 1 mil increase would yield an average instructional boost of $4,000; for non-instructional, $1,700.
District calculations show that Pasco’s median home cost of $325,000, and assuming a $25,000 homestead exemption, a property owner would pay $300 more per year, if the increase is 1 mil.
Specifically, the ballot question asks for a yes or no vote on whether to levy an additional tax, not to exceed 1 mil, beginning July 1, 2023 and ending no later than June 30, 2027.
The proceeds, according to the ballot question, will be used “for essential operating expenses to maintain salaries competitive with the market, attract and retain high-quality teachers, bus drivers and other non-administrative school support employees.”
There also is a requirement for “annual reporting to Pasco County taxpayers for transparency of the use of these funds.”
The board’s vote to pursue up to a full mil, followed persistent requests by Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco (USEP), urging the board to seek the ballot initiative. The union has pledged to give its full support to efforts to secure passage of the referendum.
Board members have said the request is necessary in order for Pasco to recruit, retain and reward district personnel.
They also noted the district is losing personnel to nearby districts that offer better pay. It also is losing staff to burnout, resulting from a combination of additional stress from fatigue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of district workers.
The shortage of bus drivers prompted the district to change its school ending and starting times for the second semester this year. And, the shortage also was cited by the district as one of the reasons it has decided to end courtesy bus rides, beginning next school year, for sixth- through 12th-graders living within 2 miles of school.
Board members said action is needed because the district is losing too many employees to other districts, or to industry jobs.
In a video released after the board’s action, Superintendent Kurt Browning said the additional source of money is needed.
“For too long, we have struggled to remain competitive with other school districts in the area,” Browning said, in the video.
In other pay-related news
The union and district instructional bargaining teams have reached a tentative agreement for the 2021-2022.
Under that agreement, teachers will receive a one-time lump sum supplement equal to 4% of their salary, and the base teacher salary will be raised to $45,200 in accordance with state statute, according to information posted on the union’s website.
The union and district also have agreed to return to the bargaining table immediately after the ratification of the 2021-2022 contract to begin negotiating additional salary improvements for 2022-2023.
The union and district also have reached a tentative agreement for school-related personnel for the 2021-2022 school year.
The union and district agreed to the 4% supplement for school-related personnel and also agreed to a guaranteed minimum for all school-related personnel.
Also, the parties will immediately open the 2022-2023 contract year to begin to bargain additional recurring raises to deal with compression as the district moves toward the minimum $15 per hour minimum requirement, beginning in October 2022, according to the union’s website.
Published May 11, 2022
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