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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Florida's teachers deserve better, Shafted by Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature

From the St. Petersburg Times

by C.T. Bowen

In Pasco County, you wonder whether you will be employed next year. If you are, great. But, you'll be paid less.

In Hernando County, the $18 million budget gap hasn't spurred (not yet, anyway) discussions of layoffs. Instead, the discussion you hear as a teacher is a student directing vulgar insults at you.

It's a waiting game on future employment, but a snap decision on answering the vile remarks. Sandra Hadsock, a 64-year-old art teacher at Hernando's Central High School, took matters into her own hands. She swung. Multiple times.

The president of the Hernando teachers union said Hadsock acted in self-defense during a confrontation in which she was backed up against a closed door by an angry, foul-mouthed male teenager lunging toward her. However, superintendent Bryan Blavatt told Times staff writer Tony Marrero that neither party is blameless.

Some, I'm sure, hope she landed a few solid licks. Others should hope teachers don't make a habit of confronting children in that manner. Frankly, if a teenager has such a vocabulary that it incites violence from an adult, perhaps the teacher should swat the parents for failing their child-rearing responsibilities.

The lack of respect from the mouth of an ill-mannered teenager is not out of the ordinary. Sadly, it mirrors a current societal disdain for educators.

Hadsock's actions — if the self-defense portrayal is accurate — could serve as a metaphor to the current stress of being an educator. Each day they're trying to help kids learn amid a tea-party inspired push to label public school teachers as ineffective louts who deserve no job protection, salary upgrade or status quo pension.

There is no education agenda in Florida. Not unless making more public money available for private school vouchers and for privately run charter schools is an enhancement. Funding to public schools dropped 8 percent. Political retribution is the real agenda.

What does it say to educators when Gov. Rick Scott claims stripping teachers' ability to contribute their union dues directly through payroll deductions is an important piece of his jobs-creating agenda? That bill, at least, didn't make it through the Legislature.

So, exactly when did teacher layoffs become equated with job creation?

In the Pasco School District, the School Board meets Tuesday to approve eliminating 513 jobs, or slightly more than 5 percent of the positions on the payroll to save nearly $28 million. The exact job descriptions haven't been revealed yet because retirements, resignations and voluntary transfers must be accounted for before principals and district administrators start delivering the pink slips. Still, there will be shorter class periods for art, music and physical education in elementary schools, which means more kids taught in less time and a need for fewer teachers in those areas.

The plan calls for culling 458 jobs from within the schools, 35 at the district and 20 from food and custodial services and from PLACE — the before- and after-school care program at elementary schools.

In addition, there will be $6 million less pumped into the local economy because of salary savings attributed to still-to-be-negotiated unpaid furlough days. And, the district employees — like other public servants — will lose 3 percent of their pay to cover pension costs, under a new state law. Combined, it is 4.5 percent less in teachers' paychecks.

Unfortunately, the economic pain will not end with this budget. The district is relying on $11.4 million in federal money and $10 million saved from Legislature-approved flexible property insurance funding to balance its ledgers. Those dollars will not be available in 2012-13. That is an additional $21 million to cut a year from now if revenues do not decline and fixed costs (fuel, utilities, insurance) do not increase. Fat chance.

So you have to question when the unpopular mandates, job cuts, pay reductions and other morale killers will affect the pupils in the classrooms.

Think back to Hadsock for a clue. She ended up with a suspension and a trip to jail after she was charged with child abuse. Upon her release, the Central High teacher of the year in 2009 voiced an immediate concern to Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association union. Just how, Hadsock worried, would she be able to submit grades for students.

"She goes through this,'' Vitalo said, "and the first thought she has is to still be thinking about her kids.''

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