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Pasco teachers and staff say #RespectUsNow

By Gage Lacharite |
March 7, 2019
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Pasco teachers and staff demand decent contract.
Pasco teachers and staff demand decent contract. (USEP)

Tampa, FL - Over 30 teachers, staff, parents and community members rallied outside the Pasco County School District Office, March 5, to build support for United School Employees of Pasco (USEP) and challenge dismal salaries for school district employees, along with the lack of funding for public education. The rally occurred only minutes before a Pasco County school board meeting inside.

Teachers and school employees in Pasco are underpaid. In contract negotiations with the school district last year they won across-the-board 2% salary increases. However, this will do little to alleviate the financial pressure on workers, many of whom have been forced to take second jobs in order to survive. It would take a Pasco County school teacher 16 years’ worth of raises to make what teachers start with in neighboring Pinellas County. Staff members in Pasco county start at $9.25 an hour, not even a dollar over Florida minimum wage. As a result, teachers are raising hell to bring attention to their situation. In addition to these issues, USEP is highlighting the gross lack of funding for their programs in general.

Kathleen Harsch, a concerned parent, said “My 16-year-old son is on his fourth teacher in one class and third in another. He’s not doing well in his classes and is supposed to be taking Advanced Placement classes next year. I worry for his future due to the overburdening of teachers, such as his science teacher who is teaching multiple classes at the same time.”

Don Peace, the president of USEP stated “This is part of a state initiative to fund our future. We’re fighting for proper funding of public education under the banner of #RespectUsNow. Pasco is the fifth-lowest funded county in the region and high seniority teachers are leaving in droves. We need good contract language, so teachers can focus on educating youth instead of just trying to get by.”

In January USEP brought negotiations to a halt due to the county’s unwillingness to respect their demands. The county is insistent upon enforcing state mandated teacher evaluations and training requirements, as well as ignoring seniority altogether as it applies to layoffs and transfers. Teacher evaluations are largely based on student test scores, which have a bias towards wealthier communities, and against more rural and poor areas like Pasco county. Negotiations between USEP and the Pasco school district are heading to mediation this month.