For those of you who are local to the Tampa area and following the issues in my home county/school district of Hillsborough, you may be aware of me discussing the issues affecting education at the school board meetings. Today’s meeting will be no exception, and I hope to receive the full five minutes of speaking time for which I registered. In the event that I do not receive this time, I recorded my comments for those of you who would like to listen to them.
If you prefer to read what I wrote rather than listen, I’ve also pasted the comments below (they are longer than 500 words, however):
On the afternoon of Monday, February 29th 2016, Mrs. Griffin encouraged about two dozen new teacher mentors to speak truth to power in dark times, which is why I am here today.
As we began the most recent round of bargaining three weeks ago, Chief Negotiator Mark West’s opening statement included a two word phrase that I have been turning over in my mind since that day—good faith.
To have faith is to place a deep and abiding trust in another. Parents have faith in our district’s employees as they entrust the tutelage, well-being, and safety of their children to all employees who directly interact with them on a daily basis during the school year, for instance. We employees in turn have placed our faith in the highest echelon of district administration and the publicly elected officials who sit before us all today.
Since January of 2015, however, our faith has been waning, and there are a litany of reasons. For example, the union negotiated the new salary schedule in “good faith” at the end of 2014 and the vast majority of teachers converted to this pay scale on the oft-repeated promise by Deputy Superintendent Dan Valdez and others that the new pay plan was—and, as an aside, still is—sustainable. The new pay scale offered simplicity and transparency: rather than vague “steps,” it was years of service. Time served was time earned, or at least it should be.
We also had good faith in district leadership last year when we negotiated a specific Performance Pay allocation of $12.4 million to supplement the salaries of instructional personnel who earned a highly effective rating, only to have that faith further eroded by the discovery of duplicitous decision-making that paid 192 administrators nearly $300,000 of the fund, as well as removing over $1.5 million to pay for fringe benefits, something that the district has never done and has always been the responsibility of the employer. While we completely comprehend the district’s purported fiscal constraints, to effectively rob money from the district’s hardest working teachers to pay its bills due to a proper lack of planning and foresight is both outrageous and shameful.
But perhaps most outrageous and shameful of all is the incessant application of double standards from the dais. 26,000 employees cannot constantly be told that there is no money to pay for what is contractually owed when there are clearly enough funds to pay lawyers’ fees that total over two million dollars in the last year, spend nearly one million dollars on the Gibson report, build new school board offices, renovate the ISC to relocate the entire HR department, spend over one third of a million dollars to upgrade the board room, give twenty thousand dollar raises to area superintendents and effectively have two people paid to do the same job, hire over five dozen district-level administrators all earning over one hundred thousand dollars, attend lavish retreats that cost tens of thousands of dollars each, continue to spend exorbitant amounts on travel, pay a public relations firm tens of thousands of dollars because we cannot keep a communications director – all at the expense of the taxpayers’ dollars and employees’ morale.
And perhaps the most egregious form of double standard came only three weeks ago when teachers who came to stand before the dais and courageously share their concerns via their constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment rights were chided like children for cheering, yet a similar rebuke never came when for-profit charter school operators were allowed to applaud their contract approval. We were met with dismissiveness bordering on disdain, and when some of you deigned to make eye contact with the speaker at the podium, those teachers were met with grimaces. And all the while everyone was all smiles for the charters who continue to raid our precious coffers.
It makes zero sense to bemoan the vast proliferation of for-profit charters that has exploded exponentially under the current administration only to greet them with open arms and a smile every time another contract is ratified.
There is still hope, however. If I have been accused of anything for which I am proud it is being relentlessly optimistic. I am an idealist with a pragmatic bent, and I have a solution that would go a long way in restoring the faith that has been eroding over the last two and a half years. First and foremost would be to return to the bargaining table next Monday ready to agree to the terms outlined by our executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins at yesterday’s bargaining meeting; they are fair and affordable, as all of you who have had one on one conversations with her know. Next would be to return the over $1.8 million that rightfully belongs to the Highly Effective teachers who earned it last year. Last yet equally important would for all of you to be the exemplars of servant leadership you were elected and hired to be.
With the advent of HB7069, now more than ever we need to all stand together against Tallahassee. Though money may be tight, I would also suggest we join the lawsuit with Broward and St. Lucie counties. We can no longer afford to have these rifts between district leaders and employees; we need to be working harmoniously in good faith so that we are truly preparing our students for life. We all know what’s at stake—our children and our future. Thank you.