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Tentative Pasco school employee pact includes raises

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LAND O’ LAKES — Teachers and other Pasco County school district employees would receive their first pay raises in six years under tentative contract agreements for the 2013-14 school year.

The agreements, reached Monday night in negotiations between the district and United School Employees of Pasco, call for the starting salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree to increase to $37,000 annually, up from $36,400.

Also, all teachers would receive across-the-board raises of $580 a year. In addition, veteran teachers would receive “loyalty shares” worth $310 for each year they worked through the recent economic downturn, up to five years. The total raise for a teacher employed for one year would be $890 and for five years would be $2,130.

The district’s longest serving teachers — those with 27 or more years of experience — would receive an additional share, bringing their raises to $2,440.

Other school employees, such as custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, would see step increases on their pay schedules, but amounts aren’t yet available because those pay schedules are still being finalized, said Lynne Webb, president of the union.

The district also reported it set aside funds to provide raises to administrators and other employees who are not represented by the union.

The proposed contracts still must be ratified by employees and approved by the school board. That is expected to happen in September.

In recent years, contract negotiations dragged on for months and in some cases the school year nearly had ended before agreement was reached. This year, both sides vowed to work toward a quicker resolution.

“My priority has been to settle the salary question as early as possible to assure that our staff receives the pay increases they’ve been waiting six years to get,” Superintendent Kurt Browning said in a prepared statement.

Pasco school employees last received a raise in 2007. At Gov. Rick Scott’s urging, the state Legislature allocated money for teacher raises throughout the state this year. Pasco’s portion was about $11.7 million.

Webb said the actual amount used for the teacher raises is about $9.6 million. The roughly $2 million difference is because some money went to charter schools and a portion is used to cover the district’s contributions to employee retirement plans and to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA.

The Legislature made no provision for raises for other school employees, so the school board budgeted money for that.

The raises mean union Vice President Kenny Blankenship can finally shear his flowing locks. Blankenship vowed several years ago not to get a haircut until employees received raises. He typically wears his hair in a long ponytail now and told the school board last week that his wife was eagerly awaiting word of raises and the haircut that would follow.

“As soon as they settled last night, a couple of people grabbed his hair and yelled, ‘Where are the scissors?’ ” Webb said.

Meanwhile, Browning soon will be in for his own salary increase, of sorts. When he campaigned for office, he promised voters he would work for no pay the first year. That year ends in November.

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