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Monday, February 21, 2011

All across the state teachers rally to protest cuts


by Isabell Mascarenas

Dunedin, Florida -- Fourteen years in the classroom and teacher Brandt Robinson says what's happening in Wisconsin is just the beginning.

"I have people on Facebook in Iowa, in Wisconsin, in Nevada. It's gaining momentum. It might gain momentum into 2012 to the elections," says Robinson.

Tens of thousands of Wisconsin teachers continue a sixth day of rallying at the state capitol, protesting the governor's proposed budget cuts. Wisconsin teachers are also fighting to protect their collective bargaining rights - a right Florida's public workers, including teachers, have under the state constitution.

Like Wisconsin, Florida teachers say they are trying to protect their profession. "We're still fighting the perception this is missionary work, while it is we're still professionals and want to be treated as professionals," says Robinson.

Proposed legislation would tie teacher evaluations and merit pay to student test scores, and Governor Scott proposes having all public employees contribute five percent of their salaries into their pensions.

Teachers see that as a pay cut. They say the pension is a tradeoff for lower salaries. One report ranks Florida 37th in teacher salaries nationwide, averaging around $46,700 dollars per year.

"I think people have to take a second look at what do we value about the public sector, what public means and what private means," explains Robinson.

Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, says, "Looking at [the] bills filed [it is] clearly an attack on public education and unions teachers [have] reached their limit."

By law, Florida public workers, including teachers, cannot strike, but with issues such as teacher tenure, evaluations and pension on the line, will Florida become the next Wisconsin?

"[With] the high rate of unemployment and foreclosures, I don't see teachers coming to that," says Black.

"I don't think we're at that point yet," adds Robinson.

Pinellas teachers will rally Friday, March 4th at three locations across the county from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Teachers in other Florida counties plan to protest too.

Pinellas County Rallies:

•N. McMullen Booth Rd. and SR 580, Clearwater
•Ulmerton Rd. and 66th Street, Largo
•Tyrone Blvd. and 66th Street, St. Petersburg
The message to legislators: "Save our public schools."

Black says, "Our teachers have done more and more with less and less. They're angry and saddened."

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