Work to rule! That’s the new way teachers at Tommie Barfield Elementary school will go about “business unusual,” in reaction to a decision Thursday by the Collier County School Board.
Teachers from around the district protested a one percent bonus, regarding it as “a drop in the bucket” in comparison to the 100 percent they put into their jobs on a daily basis. According to Steven Donovan, Collier County School Board president, the School Board says a few months back the proposal was three percent across the board, but the union chose a step increase instead.
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“If following contract, teachers wouldn’t get the step until after negotiations, but for morale purposes, we gave it to them first, which only postponed later discussions about an increase. A third of teachers don’t even get that step increase. But the number one concern for the union two months ago was getting that step,” Donovan explains.
In retaliation to the one percent, one time bonus offer which replaced an expected raise in pay, starting Friday, teachers at TBE began arriving at 7:35 a.m. and leaving the classroom at 3:05 sharp, taking no work home with them.
Suggestions have been made by the CCEA regarding working “to contract,” in various ways. Teachers are encouraged to stop posting bulletin boards, stop holding parent conferences after hours and stop making comments on interim reports. New things teachers will incorporate into the day include simplified lesson plans and use of alternate supervisory techniques such as “videos and seat work.”
Donovan says teachers can take actions as they feel necessary, but will still be expected to follow their contract and meet requirements like putting in grades.
“Their actions are not going to change what we can offer them, period. Starting at the top, we are currently reviewing the administration center and the overall priorities of how we do business. Over half a million dollars has been saved in the administration building just by not filling positions, but this can’t help the situation with the teachers. You could fire everyone in the building but it still wouldn’t be enough to do what they ask,” Donovan confirms.
“I don’t like it – I want to pay our teachers more. But what I don’t like even more than that is the financial crisis we are having right now in Collier County and the state of Florida. I know across the board we would offer more if we could. The problem is an extreme housing downturn throughout this county. We’re losing students, so we’re actually sending money back to the state. It’s not even zero growth, it’s negative.”
But words of explanation from the board don’t seem to sit well with teachers in this county. A sharp response to the bonus offer was heard loud and clear in the TBE parking lot Friday afternoon.
“Work to rule! Work to rule!” could be heard chanted outside the school, as children were heard in the background commenting that their teachers were leaving.
“If they won’t pay us what we’re worth then we’re not going to stay to do all the extra. We’re only going to do exactly what we have to do,” states Judy Albero, a first grade teacher at TBE. “The one percent is not enough. We have so many hours that we work extra. We work so hard. We take work home. We come in early. We stay late. We have parent conferences in the evening when the parents are able to do it and we don’t get compensated for any of that. We didn’t get a raise this year. So they expect us to work for the salary that we had last year? We didn’t get a raise last year either! So that means two years we didn’t get a raise. That one time bonus is like a drop in the bucket. A slap in the face. It’s very sad.”
Other teachers at TBE talk of financial struggles including rising insurance costs, double mortgages and homes not selling around the island. According to Christine Farhat, a fourth grade teacher at TBE, the teachers will take a unified stand until the Collier County School Board takes time to listen.
“This issue affects us greatly right here on Marco Island. We already lost a teacher from Tommie Barfield because of a salary issue. They refused to count her experience in her salary. When we lost her, we lost a lot. She not only excelled within her position, she was an inspiration to all of us,” Farhat explains. “I encourage all parents of Tommie Barfield Elementary students to attend the next school board meeting to speak out about how their money is being allocated. Even if we personally are not in dire straits, it is important for each of us to work as a team to support those who are. We are united.”
For Collier County School Board information and meeting schedules, visit www.collier.k12.fl.us.