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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Florida destroys its covenant with teachers

The hits keep coming for Florida’s teachers.

There used to be a covenant between teachers and society. It used to be we said to teachers, we can’t pay you that much, certainly not as much as you deserve but not only will you have our undying admiration and respect but since there are so many of you and there is power in numbers we will be able to give you good benefits and then if you spend a lifetime caring for other people’s children, we will take care of you in your old age.

Now Florida has blown up the covenant and has sadly reneged on just about every promise. The price of teacher benefits has gone way up, their pensions are now more expensive and not any better and they are some of the worst paid in the nation. Also ask a teacher about that respect and admiration thing too because recently that has been severely lacking.

Then the Florida Supreme Court comes along and puts another nail in the coffin of the teaching profession. In case you missed it, the other day they ruled that it was all right for the state of Florida to just take three percent of teacher’s salaries. There was no negotiating and no quid pro quo either, teacher’s got nothing in return. Nope, just took it and the Supreme Court despite hundreds of years of contract law saying that was fine. This is particularly scary since the Florida Legislature barely contains their distain for the  profession anyways having also kneecapped it with their ill conceived and nearly impossible to implement senate bill 736. How much will the take this year or in the future; five percent, ten percent? The Supreme Court has given them carte blanche to treat teachers in any fashion they want.

And for those that complain that public sector pensions are ruining the economy, remember when they crashed the housing market and sent us into a banking crisis? Do you remember when teachers got bail outs one year and awarded themselves bonuses the next? Neither do I but for some reason, teachers and other public sector workers have born the brunt and blame of the financial collapse and since our political leaders who haven’t believed in public education for years started pointing their fingers at the teaching professions, blaming them for society’s ills we are on the cusp of an education disaster.  

 People forget that just five years ago, the state of Florida was recruiting in the business world and in India and Canada because we couldn’t find enough teachers to fill our classrooms. The economy went south and people desperate for jobs thought to themselves, hey I’ll give that a try. But what’s going to happen when the economy turns around and people have options? Florida has harassed, hindered and marginalized our teachers to the point where there is a looming disaster. All it will be is a few veterans who feel they are too far in and a revolving door of people who think to themselves, hey I’ll give that a try.

And speaking of those people they will be paying three percent of their salary into a pension fund that most will never benefit from and that’s because it takes six years to get vested in to the pension. Right now forty percent of teachers don’t last five years. That three percent of their salaries gone forever applied to a pension fund that they will never use. Isn’t that stealing? I mean more stealing.

And speaking of the pension fund, it was not a rickety ship on the brink of collapse. No it was and is healthy and doing fine, funded well above most pensions. Say you are thinking to yourself, well the three percent will just make it all the more healthy. Well you would be wrong to think that because the three percent stolen from teachers didn’t go to the pension fund. It went to the general fund to pay help for the rest of the states expenses. Read that again, the money taken from teachers for pensions did not go to the pension fund. How is that legal? Friends what happened was the state of Florida chose to balance its book on the backs of its teachers and other state employees 

There are two ways to slice what happened and neither is good for teachers. Either it was a three percent pay cut or a special three percent tax just to be levied on teachers and other public service workers. You might be trying to justify it by pointing out things have been tough, well Millionaires weren’t asked to chip in. Businesses weren’t asked to chip in. Politicians weren’t asked to chip in either. It was JUST teachers and other public service workers.   

To put a human face on it with the expiration of the social security holiday, teachers have taken a five percent pay cut from two years ago, for me that’s about two thousand dollar. I’ll make it, it’s just me and a surly cat but what about the single mother of two, or the teacher who has to take care of an ailing parent or a sick child. That’s real money taken out of the pockets of your neighbors.

This is especially devastating for Florida’s teachers who are some of the lowest paid in the nation. Different measurements place us between 39th and 47th on the pay scale. For me as a 12th year teacher I am making some 14 thousand dollars below the national average. I have an idea lets get rid of pensions all together and pay teachers the national average. I think with an extra 14k a year I should be able to take care of my own retirement.

When the Florida Supreme Court said it was okay that the state can change the pension rules for its teachers, not negotiate with mind you but just change it, the state of Florida said to its teachers you will take what we give to you and you will like it. This is especially ironic to me since every public school teacher and I just got a letter from the governor thanking us for the good job we have done and lauding our importance to the state. Thanks gov but you know what would be better, me being able to pay my bills and save for the future.

Florida should change its motto from the sunshine state to the, we screw our teachers state, why not embrace it; we all already know it is true. 

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