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Monday, June 13, 2011

Rick Scott's victims given a face

From the Sun

by Rafael A. Olmeda

MIRAMAR —— Anthony Tabacco was emptying garbage cans and cleaning bathrooms in Broward County's public schools nine years ago when a teacher advised him to become an educator instead because "it's a secure career."

On Thursday, the last day of classes for the nearly 257,000 students enrolled in Broward's public schools, Tabacco, 33, said goodbye to his music class at Sunshine Elementary School in Miramar, and possibly to his career as a teacher in the district.

Tabacco is one of about 1,400 Broward teachers, all in their first or second years on the job, who won't be coming back next year because the school district says it simply can't afford to pay them.

"It kills me," he said. "As it stands right now, I don't have a chance to continue this next year."

The distracted second-graders in Tabacco's classroom seemed unaware that he likely won't return next year, wishing him a good summer as casually as they would wish him a good weekend.

Tabacco doesn't know for sure what he'll do next. He may teach privately or look for a job with another public school district. One thing he won't do is head to a private school.

"I believe in public education," he said. "I don't believe privatizing everything is the answer."

A pianist from his childhood, Tabacco was a product of Broward's public schools. While working as a custodian starting in 2002 at Silver Palms Elementary in Pembroke Pines and later at Cypress Bay High in Weston, he went back to college to pursue a degree in music education.

When he finally got his bachelor's he was hired to teach art at Nova Eisenhower Elementary in Davie in 2009. The following year, he was laid off, as were hundreds of other teachers.

And like most of those teachers, he was rehired when a property tax levy and an infusion of federal stimulus money bailed out the school district.

This year, neither of those bailouts materialized. No one expected them to, least of all Tabacco.

Still, he said, he had hoped the district would find a way. First- and second-year teachers were told last month that their contracts would not be renewed.

The district doesn't refer to them as layoffs, but Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo said it's just a matter of semantics. Contracts should be renewed for teachers with satisfactory job evaluations, he said.

"The 1,400 are losing their jobs for financial reasons, not performance," he said. "That makes this a layoff."

District officials have said the union and the new teachers were aware there was no money to keep them beyond June. Tabacco acknowledged that.

After he graduated from MacArthur High School in Hollywood, Tabacco shunned college and became a custodian instead. But when he was advised to pursue a teaching career, he liked the idea.

"I'm a pianist. I've studied ever since I was 7. And I realized that I'm wasting my talent," he said.

He drew inspiration from Dennis Bryant, his chorus teacher at MacArthur High, who died in 2006.

"If I could make one of these kids feel the way my chorus teacher Mr. Bryant made me feel about music, that would mean a lot to me," Tabacco said.

Tabacco's students were impressed as he demonstrated the music program Garage Band on his work-issued laptop, demonstrating how a repetitive bass line and background harmony combine with a drum beat and a little improvisation to create an original work within just a few minutes.

"I gotta dance to that," one girl said, stepping away from her chair and showing off a few improvised moves. Tabacco hadn't taught the students how to fiddle with Garage Band this year.,0,4124272.story

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