Pasco schools pass new teacher contract

Pasco teachers and school officials have reached an agreement about how to meet salary cuts imposed by state legislators as part of recent budget cuts.

The Pasco School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a new two-year contract with its teachers that included a compromise on the 1.9 percent pay cut written into the state budget.

The district passed on a little more than half of the cut to teachers in the form of furloughs and agreed to pay the rest out of its own coffers, without reimbursement from the state.

The teacher pay cuts are trickier to negotiate than those of most other state employees, because kids have to be in school for 180 days and receive 1,000 hours of classroom instruction during that time, Sarah Thornton, the district's director of human resources, told the Herald.

Legislators told public agencies other than schools how to trim salaries for their employees -- send them home without pay for several days of the year. But for teachers, the budget just dictated new pay scales, without direction on how to get there.

That led to fierce debates between management and labor in many districts -- but not in Pasco.

"I think it went amazingly well, given the stress that's been going on under this budget," said Joy Reilly, the president of Pasco's teachers union.

That middle ground is that teachers and students will go home early on Oct. 14, Feb. 17, April 27 and May 25. Those four half-days -- adding up to two full days of pay -- are about 1.2 percent of their 180-day school year.

The remaining cut won't be passed on to the teachers, Thornton said. The district will pay that part of their salaries out of its reserves for the next two years.

"I want to thank (the union) and our lead negotiators for coming together in what was probably the most difficult budget situation we've had in decades," Superintendent Saundra Hill said after the vote on the teacher's contract. "We've come up with a solution that's equitable and fair."

Also Tuesday:

w Pasco will offer all-day kindergarten at Captain Gray Early Learning Center and Whittier Elementary School starting this fall. The district was promised money for this years ago because its need was ranked highest in the state, Hill said.

Despite the current budget problems, state officials listened to Hill's pleas this time around. "This is big news for Pasco," she said. "The way to increase performance is to increase time."

w The school board said good-bye to two nonvoting members and one longtime administrator. Student represen- tatives Euridice Gallegos and Courtney Campbell graduated this year and are going on to college. Associate Superintendent Dennis Maguire is retiring this week after many years in the district.