Few complained when the Pasco County School District and its employees’ union agreed in August to The biggest increases they’ve seen in years.
Employees will see average wage bumps of about 5.4%, with many workers queuing for much larger increases than that. The deal was one of Florida’s best, with more promising thanks to the recently passed property tax referendum starting next year.
Then checks for increments began to appear in employee accounts. They saw that after taxes and other deductions, the amount was not as useful as they had hoped with inflation.
Phrases like “a slap in the face” and “how do we fight this?” It started popping up in social media conversations between workers and their friends. Some said that an increase in health insurance premiums for district employees negated the wage hike.
“Teachers and staff are actually worse than they were 5 years ago,” social studies teacher John Tesey said in a Facebook comment.
Assistant Superintendent of Administration Kevin Shepley noted that the district began paying an additional $31.66 per month for health insurance premiums. At the same time, I acknowledge that the cost of anyone taking more than a basic HMO program has gone up even more.
Employees who use an HMO premium plan will pay themselves an additional $35.25 every two weeks, while workers who take a PPO plan for their spouse and children will pay an additional $103.22 per paycheck. The increases varied according to the plan chosen, the number of family members included, and the frequency of wages.
Shibli explained that prices for “buy-up” plans have gone up because that’s where most of the claims come in, and where the region’s health insurance deficit has been growing.
Back in March, district officials alerted the board of directors that its self-insurance policy was spending millions of dollars in the red, in large part due to coronavirus-related illnesses. Average claims increased 6% in the past year, and 15% in the year before, depending on the region.
After an additional review with an actuary, they projected a deficit of $10.6 million for fiscal year 2023 if nothing changed.
“The region’s claims reserve will not be able to absorb this type of loss, and it is critical that the insurance program be financially stable and able to cover its annual expenses with available annual recurring income,” Al-Shibli said.
Federal pandemic relief funds helped offset some of the past expenditures, but those funds are not expected to be available again.
They warned the council of the need to take steps to balance the budget, and those might include targeted increases in premiums. This is what happened.
Follow what’s happening at Tampa Bay schools
Subscribe to our free newsletter
We’ll break down the state and local educational developments you need to know each Thursday.
You are all registered!
Want more of our free weekly newsletter in your inbox? Let’s get started.
Explore all your options
The District Insurance Committee recommended that the plan be redesigned by reducing projected future claims by $3.9 million, increasing Board contributions by $3.6 million and increasing “purchases” of the non-core plan to generate $3.1 million.
“We had to adapt,” said Pasco United School staff, Don Pace, chair of the committee. “We didn’t feel it was fair to penalize the free plan” that wasn’t causing the transgressions.
“If you cost us more, you should pay a little more,” Salam said.
He emphasized that the offers to the staff were generous, given the constraints on funding the area and the reality of the high cost of living. He noted that increases in health insurance premiums in Pascoe were lower than in other regions, and argued that the region keeps the error as best it can.
“It’s probably going to be a one-year passing picture because of COVID,” he said. “Hopefully we can adjust it again next year.”
School board member Alison Crumble said she would consider this option, if at all possible. She, like her fellow board members, hasn’t heard much from employees about these financial concerns, but she said she wasn’t surprised.
“The cost of life is going up,” Crombley said, pointing to the high prices of milk, eggs and gas as other examples people encounter on a daily basis.
She said the board of directors discussed the need to improve his payroll, particularly to fix the pressure that has occurred between new and veteran employees. She added that she had made clear her desire to further improve wages for all employees.
“At least we’ve gone in the right direction,” Krumbley said, referring to the surge agreement that has yet to be ratified. “But am I satisfied? No.”
• • •
Subscribe to the Gradebook newsletter!
Every Thursday, get the latest updates on what’s happening in Tampa Bay area schools from times Education reporter Jeffrey S. Soloshik. click here to sign up.