The dirty secret for public school teachers in Hillsborough County, or basically anywhere in Florida, is that the amount they are paid doesn’t cover all the work they do.
Many teachers just shrug at that reality and spend part of their “free time” grading papers, preparing lesson plans, or volunteering at school events because they think it’s the right thing to do for their students.
Well, it looks like that will stop. No more freebie time. We’re about to find out what happens now that Hillsborough teachers say they will do only the work specified in their contract. That means grades could be late, lesson plans could be disjointed, and they’ll be out the door and gone as soon as the final bell rings. See you in the morning.
This is happening because the county school board said it doesn’t have the money to pay a $4,000 raise it promised years ago to about one-third of the estimated 14,000 teachers employed by the nation’s eighth-largest district.
About 600 angry, fed-up teachers showed up at a school board meeting Tuesday to deliver that message. They call it “working the contract” and if they follow through, it could cause chaos in the system.
Teachers are given planning time during the day, but it’s frequently inadequate to accomplish all the requirements of the job. That means taking work home, and hundreds of teachers have shared stories about finishing their job tasks at the expense of family time.
Their reward for this has been a kick in the teeth from the Legislature, which has been focused on expanding private charter schools. Lawmakers allow charters to use tax money for their buildings and they can take federal dollars targeted to help low-income students. That cuts into public school budgets.
That doesn’t account for all the fiscal problems, though.
Student population is expanding as Florida grows. Hillsborough has more than 300 public schools, and the maintenance problems at many of them have been well documented. The district also accumulated about $1 billion in debt for new-school construction between 1994 and 2014.
Add to that the expectation that voters will approve a $25,000 increase in the homestead exemption in 2018, and that will cut into school budgets even more.
And, yes, decisions like the one years ago to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation proved to be a financial disaster. That’s on the school board.
Guess who got caught in the middle?
Those teachers wore blue shirts in solidarity and chanted slogans at the contentious board meeting Tuesday, but that was never going to get them the money they deserve. They see “working the contract” as the only viable way to get the attention of the people in charge.
As much as I hate to see it come to this, this is only leverage they have. The Legislature’s answer to all the school problems has been for officials to manage their money better, but what’s happening in Hillsborough is way beyond that simplistic solution.
The teachers deserve the raise they were promised, and for that to happen Hillsborough needs to find about $17 million somewhere, somehow. Good luck with that.
This problem is about to get real.