It’s deja vu all over again. After committing to a 2 percent pay increase for teachers and school related Personnel (SRP) this year, the District is backpedalling offering barely 1 percent for employee salary increases, and that’s only if USEP agrees to eliminate early retirement incentives! This comes after five years with no pay increases and minimal pay increases last year.
By comparison, other local government offices are finding ways to prioritize their employees this year—the Pasco County Sheriff’s employees are looking at pay increases of up to 5 percent, while Pasco County employees are looking at pay increases of 3 percent!
USEP President Kenny Blankenship remarked, “It makes one wonder, how does $7.2 million dissipate into $3 million in approximately two weeks? Where did it go? Up in smoke?”
Speaking of smoke, the district passed language to eliminate grandfathered smoking areas in schools built prior to 1996 immediately. Despite the District’s “burning” desire to regulate employee health, it has never convened the contractual committee designed for the purpose of revisiting problems that may arise due to the implementation of the Tobacco Free Policy. Instead, the District proposed eliminating another contractual right, which will leave employees hanging “cold turkey.”
In the eighteen years that the Tobacco Free Policy has been in force, USEP has not heard complaints about employees smoking on campus in designated smoking areas away from students. “Why is negating this policy more important than addressing the educational and funding needs of our schools?” asked USEP Chief Negotiator Jim Ciadella.
SRP Chief Negotiator Ed Ronda stated that while everyone appreciates that smoking is unhealthy, “Nothing has shown definitively that smoking cessation has led to a reduction in health insurance costs.”
Members of the USEP bargaining teams felt strongly that the Superintendent should not take away their right to vote on smoking at each individual worksite. Most team members are non-smokers, yet felt that the District should not seek to restrict rights that were previously negotiated. As one team member stated, “In these schools, smoking areas are already located outside, away from the view of students and faculty. I mean, smoking is legal.”
In other action, the USEP SRP team passed proposals regarding Instructional Assistants substituting in classrooms and riding school buses, as well as Bus Drivers covering double runs. The Instructional team passed a counter-proposal to the District’s restricting Illness In Line of Duty Leave.
Once again Pasco school employees find themselves at the bottom of the list of District priorities.