Union will talk money in school contract negotiations
LAND O' LAKES - Contract negotiations between United School Employees of Pasco and the school district are set to resume after the district's winter break ends. It will be time to talk money, the union told its members in a message issued just before the break, which ends Monday for teachers and Tuesday for students. One key issue on the union's agenda is unpaid furlough days. In September, the school board passed a budget for 2012-13 that hinged on every employee taking two furlough days. It was one of several strategies the board used for dealing with a $23 million revenue shortfall. Furlough days, though, must be negotiated, something the union has repeatedly reminded the school board and union members about.The union opposes the furlough days. The lack of a proposed salary increase also has been a sore point for teachers and other school employees. This is the sixth year in a row that the school board approved a budget that included no raises. Employees viewed the lack of pay increases as even more glaring this year because other school districts, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando, provided raises to their employees. Several union members spoke at the September meeting when the school board approved the budget by a 4-1 vote, with board member Steve Luikart the lone dissenter. The union members complained the board was balancing the budget on the backs of the employees. Even the union acknowledges there are reasons other districts might be able to give raises when Pasco doesn't. In its message to members, the union said some districts have additional revenue streams Pasco doesn't. Meanwhile, Pasco employees pay nothing for their health insurance, which is not the case for most other districts. Employees do pay if they insure dependents. Another issue that continues to be a sticking point for contract negotiations is a state-mandated teacher evaluation system that went into effect in 2011-12. The district must have the evaluation system, but it has leeway with some of the specifics. School board members met in a closed session Dec. 4 to discuss the contract negotiations. Before they went into that session, Lynne Webb, president of United School Employees of Pasco, asked them to keep in mind the contributions and sacrifices employees have made over the last five years. The school board's contracts with the union used to be negotiated and approved before the school year began. But that hasn't been the case in recent years, as a variety of issues have kept the two sides from reaching agreement. The 2011-12 contract, for example, wasn't ratified until May when the school year was nearly over. The negotiations took 10 months. The school board and the union actually negotiate two contracts — one for teachers and one for other employees, such as cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians.
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