When someone writes the history of Pasco County Schools, the date Aug. 23, 2022, likely will be remembered.
That’s the day that Pasco County voters approved a referendum allowing up to a 1-mil increase in annual property taxes to pay for wage increases, to recruit and retain non-administrative personnel who work for Pasco County Schools.
For Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco (USEP), the voters’ decision marked the culmination of five years of pursuing an additional source of revenue to support employee pay.
The union leader characterized the tax initiative’s passage as “probably the biggest thing to happen to Pasco County public education in the last 20 years.”
Peace also expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped make it happen, during remarks he made at the Pasco County School Board’s Aug. 30 meeting.
He thanked the community for voting yes. He thanked Superintendent Kurt Browning and the school board for getting the initiative on the ballot.
The USEP president also thanked Lift Up Pasco, a group of retired district employees, as well as employees who volunteered their own time, to help generate support for the tax.
Peace singled out Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano and former state Sen. John Legg, who provided written support for the cause.
“FEA (the Florida Education Association) and Stephanie Kunkel are also to be commended, as they worked to get information out to voters, through mailers,” Peace said.
In essence, the union leader thanked anyone who had anything to do with approval of the new tax.
Browning also characterized the Aug. 23 Primary Election Day as “a great day for the Pasco district.
“It is a game-changer,” Browning said.
The superintendent said the reelection of school board incumbents Cynthia Armstrong and Megan Harding, as well as the approval of the millage referendum, “sent a strong message that our parents are happy with the direction that this district is moving.
“I think they (voters) want to support our teachers, and I think, most importantly, they want to support our students.
“This was a huge thing for us because what it’s going to do is it’s going to put us at even, if not above, our neighbors to the south, when it comes to pay,” Browning said.
The superintendent also noted there’s already been an increase in the number of applicants wanting to work in the Pasco district.
“I think it’s just the beginning of things to come.” Browning said.
While delighted by the outcome, Browning added: “We need to be accountable. We need to be transparent and we need to do what we said we were going to do with those dollars. And, we will do just that.”
The school district leader also thanked the union for its involvement on the tax issue and thanked the school board “for having the courage to place that issue on the ballot.”
School board members expressed gratitude, too.
“I’m so thankful for the community voting yes for our students and for all of the support we had on that issue. That was just a big win for our district,” said Cynthia Armstrong, the board’s chairwoman.
Board member Megan Harding put it this way: “On Aug. 23, you voted yes for our Pasco County students because you believe in public education.
“I truly believe this is going to help us retain our teachers and staff, and recruit teachers and staff to help us be competitive with our surrounding counties.
“Our students deserve to have certified teachers in front of them, teaching them.
“Our teachers and staff deserve to be compensated appropriately for all of their hard work, they do every single day.
“Good schools are created when you have certified teachers teaching our amazing students, and when you have good schools, communities thrive,” Harding said.
Like the others, she voiced appreciation for the work done by Lift Up Pasco, USEP members and district volunteers to support passage of the tax.
Harding praised the efforts of board colleague Colleen Beaudoin, in particular. “She worked really, really, really hard on that, so thank you Miss Beaudoin for all of your support.”
Beaudoin, for her part, began by thanking the Pasco community.
Beaudoin was a fierce advocate for the referendum, reasoning the district had no other way to provide the pay necessary to recruit and retain employees.
“Our students deserve to have high-quality, certified teachers in front of them. This referendum, in addition to our commitment to permanent salary increases, will go a long way toward Pasco County school employees being the best-paid district in the area,” Beaudoin said, during the board’s Aug. 30 meeting.
She, too, expressed appreciation for everyone who pitched in.
“The additional income will be significant for our employees, but I must also say that knowing that the majority of the community supports public education and our educators and staff is a big morale boost to our team.
“I know that this was a big ask for our community in difficult economic times, and I appreciate our voters supporting our schools.
“This is a big win for Pasco students,” Beaudoin said.
Published September 07, 2022