Celebrating excellence is a routine part of Pasco County School Board meetings.
Outstanding teachers are singled out.
Special achievements are acknowledged.
“We hear of wonderful accomplishments by students and teachers, remarkable things that have been done despite all of the obstacles of COVID, and related issues being thrown at them.
“This is truly awesome, and we should be proud and recognize those people and those situations,” said Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco.
“However, I’m going to ask you to focus for a few minutes on the other side — that is equally prevalent, at our worksites.
“We recently heard that in a “Thought Exchange Survey,” parents, students, the community and staff all had mental health as a Top 5 priority.
“Employees are being mentally taxed, to the utmost, in trying to perform their jobs.
“Staff shortages showed up as (No.) 1 and (No.) 2, by both groups.
“We can’t get enough individuals to fill all allocations, so others are being asked, and expected, to do more.
“Substitutes are not available to fill in for all those out for illness or for quarantine.
“Students are being shuffled, to meet the needs for supervision, often at the expense of quality instruction.
“This all affects morale and performance.
“Employees have given and given, until — in some cases — there’s no more to give,” the union leader said.
“Your recent Gallup Survey showed 56% of the district’s employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged. That’s an astounding number of people just going through the motions.
“Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they haven’t (received) praise or recognition for their work.
“Where’s our compassion for those who are front-line workers in an ongoing medical crisis?
“Forty-one percent say they don’t necessarily feel their opinion is important.
“Why is it so difficult for us to perform temperature checks, if you will, to see where people are at?
“Thirty-four percent of the employees surveyed expressed little, to no, satisfaction with their job.
“Sixty-five percent of our schools, according to the survey, fell into the two lowest levels of the survey results.
“These numbers indicate that we need to do more,” Peace said.
Salary improvements in the district, although better — are not keeping up with surrounding counties, the union leader continued.
“When will we take the next step and put together a ballot initiative to help hire and retain quality employees?” Peace asked.
Rising number of resignations, retirements
Peace also noted that the union tracks the number of district hires and the number of employees who leave.
“To date, according to our records, the district has hired almost 1,400 new employees this year. In the board packets, there are two to four pages, sometimes more, of retirements or resignations. In tonight’s board packet alone, there are 101 retirements or resignations, with only 10 of those being 15-plus year employees.
“We have got to do a better job of taking care of people to retain quality individuals working with our students.
“We need to do a better job of standing up for all employees. Every job in this district is important and plays an integral part in the students’ educational opportunity. Take away any of those positions, and students will suffer.
“Therefore, every individual should be treated with kindness, respect and compassion — especially in these trying times,” Peace said.
He urged those listening to take a moment for introspection.
“Please, take a step back and look where you are — and where we all need to be,” Peace said.
His words stirred a response from the district’s elected leaders.
School board member Megan Harding said she’s heard the word “burnout” being used by district personnel.
“It’s very real now, in our district, and really, in our nation,” Harding said. “Our teachers and staff are really feeling alone and overwhelmed.
“Many of them are leaving the profession or moving schools (transferring),” she said.
She noted that district pay is brought up frequently, but added she couldn’t talk about that because the district and union are in the midst of negotiations.
However, Harding added: “I just want to reiterate that I really hope we’re working on a plan that will pay our employees a wage that they truly deserve.
“My heart can’t take another teacher, bus driver or staff calling me, or emailing me that they aren’t making enough to pay their rent or their child’s day care.
“I’m tired of seeing our highly effective teachers leaving Title 1 schools, and I’m sad seeing and hearing my peers getting burned out,” Harding said.
Harding also requested that a closed-door workshop be scheduled soon, so board members can discuss issues that are subject to negotiations.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin raised a concern about how staff are being treated, as they go about performing their jobs.
“They’ve all been working hard and doing a tremendous job,” Beaudoin said. “Particularly challenging has been the increase in anger directed at them.
“I want to thank our teachers, our leaders, our bus drivers, all of our staff for continuing to remain focused on our students and I want to thank the parents, who are supportive and respectful in communicating with our employees.
“I hope that in 2022 we can bring back civility to our schools and community,” she said.
Beaudoin also mentioned an initiative she read about that’s being done elsewhere. It involves a business owner who stepped forward to help the school district by providing paid time off for his staff, so they can provide volunteer help in the district.
She asked Pasco school district leaders to look into reaching out to local companies and service clubs to see if a similar program can be initiated here.
School board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong empathized with Peace’s message.
“Just to put it in simplistic terms: COVID, the flu, colds — are really kicking the butt of the whole community, especially in the school system where we’re in close quarters of all of our students.
“We really are working hard to do whatever we can.
“We really appreciate everyone — from teachers to administrators to the people in cafeterias, the bus drivers, the maintenance people — that play such a vital role in everything we do.
“We’re having to work through these issues,” Armstrong said.
“My heart goes out to them because I know how frustrating it is — not to feel that you’re able to do your job like you’re used to doing it, because of all of these demands.
“As Mr. Peace said, ‘Do that temperature check with your colleagues: How are you doing today?’
“See if there is not something, or a word, that we can say to make the situation better and help each other out in these trying times,” the board chairwoman said.
Published January 26, 2022