In recent weeks, Collier County teachers, including those at Tommie Barfield Elementary (TBE), have been adhering to a “work to rule” decision, abiding strictly to contractual agreements and providing nothing more of themselves than what they are required to do by law.
The unified stand came in response to a “weak offer,” referred to by many as a “drop in the bucket,” made by Collier County School District, offering teachers a one time/one percent bonus, instead of a much anticipated raise in pay. Many people are saying that they want answers regarding what appears to be a very unclear, top heavy budget plan.
It appears that the district superintendent position has seen a 74 percent salary increase in the last four years, while teachers received a 13 percent total increase, according to the Florida Department of Education’s Bureau of Education Information and Accountability Services. And in the case of these teachers, (not) enough is (not) enough.
“The teachers at Tommie Barfield are all doing the best they can. Most teachers are following the suggested ‘work to rule.’ The worst impact is on our very own work load,” explained Kathy Anderson, TBE art teacher and union representative for Collier County Education Association (CCEA). “Things are piling up quite a bit. With art, I have a lot of materials stacked up here and there. There’s no time to organize . I like to put things away. I’m a veteran teacher, I know what and how to teach. You know how people have a messy garage? I have a messy garage. It’s impacting teachers but all of the kids needs are being met.”
Many parents say they have not noticed a difference since the teachers began the “work to rule.” Michelle Hurtley, a TBE mother, says she feels disappointed. After all, teachers are often times people who feel called to teach and who are passionate about children.
“I am absolutely on the teacher’s side. I am shocked as a parent that the people who have a passion for our children are basically being spit on. I appreciate what they must do to be heard but at the same time the whole thing is very disappointing. Even in the military we would get a four percent raise, which was never enough. This is our future, and you can see across this country how our focus on educators has gone down. We see the results of that in our society,” stated Hurtley.
Many agree something must be done. A serious communication problem is coming between the school district and its faculty. Richard Calabrese, Collier County School Board member says it appears that what the teachers are doing is, in fact, working. He says he can see why they are doing it but there’s one thing he doesn’t understand.
“I don’t think they should put the children in the middle. I don’t agree with it. I think the teachers are very entitled to a raise. I think administration should negotiate in a professional manner,” he said. “I believe there really is money there. We should look at the budget and look at it thoroughly. I have been asking for an audit for over a year now and I will continue to ask.”
He then added, “Without teachers there’s no education system, they are the ones teaching our children. I think the district and the teachers have to work it out. There’s no choice. What do you do? Close the schools?”]
According to Calabrese, “They are good teachers, they work very, very hard. There’s a big disconnect between administrative salaries and what teachers make. It’s true, we’re far too heavy at the top as an administration but that’s management versus personnel salaries. It exists in every corporation. That’s just a fact of life.”.
Fact of life or not, perhaps it’s time for change. That’s what the attitude seems to be at Tommie Barfield Elementary. A group of teacher leaders will meet with the principal this Friday to reevaluate priorities. Jory Westberry, principal at TBE, says she feels confident and believes parents can rest knowing teachers will not let the important moments in teaching decline. She, like everyone else, would like answers from the district but admits she can’t help but question how the overall state of the economy is affecting the situation.
“We are in a very strange economy now where county government people aren’t even getting raises. All kinds of people are out of work. Real estate sales are negligent. I think we have to look at the big picture and go from there,” Westberry said. “I would hope that there’s an end to it because it tends to stress out and add more anxiety to teachers who want to do their very best. The situation affects their pride in their job. So my heart breaks for the people who have additional stress on them because they are not permitted to do the job they want to do.”
Today’s instruction patterns are very different from those of the past. The “No Child Left Behind” and FCAT’s have driven many teachers to go above and beyond what was once considered acceptable. A lot of instruction is individualized, there are classroom size restraints and teachers need volunteers. People are pushed to get more done in less time.
“I think in all honesty, part of our argument is not just about raises. Teachers have been working two and three hours extra on a regular basis. The expectations by our principal have been to go above and beyond. You are expected to be professional and that connotates working beyond contract hours,” explained Anderson. “I’ve been teaching for 34 years. Ten years ago, when students watched a Christmas movie or had a holiday party, the kids were learning. Now, the pendulum is swinging the opposite way. I’m hoping this will be a wake up call for teachers to say, ‘You know what? I know what’s best.’ Maybe we all need to ease up a little bit.”
One thing the administration, teachers and parents can agree on is the need for better communication. Some look with hopeful hearts to the next school board meeting, scheduled for tomorrow at 2 p.m., at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Administrative Center on Osceola Trail in Naples.
“I would hope this school board meeting would be a packed house,”confessed Anderson.
“I think the public should always attend. It’s not a waste of breath to speak up. Meetings are public for a reason, because the public is supposed to participate,” stated Calabrese.
“Supporting is always a plus for the morale of teachers whether they are in a situation like this or not,” said Westberry.
For meeting agendas and calendars, visit www.collier.k12.fl.us.