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The teachers figured somebody needed to learn a lesson.
More than 50 Collier County teachers, support staff and community members showed up outside the entrance to the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa on Friday afternoon, holding protest signs as school administrators arrived for a weekend retreat.
The teachers were there to protest the School Board’s 3-2 decision 2½ weeks ago to deny teachers a step raise based on years of experience. Instead, the board approved a one-time, 1 percent bonus.
Protesters contrasted the weekend retreat at the resort to the teachers’ compensation packages.
“Seven years, no raise! Enjoy your weekend!!” read one sign.
The administrators are participating in a weekend Leadership Institute, which “supports the continued professional development” of Collier schools leaders, according to district officials.
“It’s unfortunate that the Leadership Institute, planned over a year ago, fell on a date that was so close to the Legislative Hearing where the resolution of impasse with our local teachers union was decided,” said Superintendent Kamela Patton in a statement.
The conference is being conducted at no expense to the district and is paid for by 43 sponsors who donated $105,000, according to officials.
Laura Marzano, a prekindergarten teacher at Village Oaks Elementary School in Immokalee and first vice president of the Collier County Education Association — the teachers union that organized the protest — said the retreat still was inappropriate.
“All the time we go without paper towels in our classrooms, GCA is donating to this. They have to get a contract. That’s a conflict of interest,” she said, referring to the district’s custodial service provider.
Attempts to contact officials at GCA Services Group for comment were unsuccessful Friday night.
Adam Rynsburger, a Mike Davis Elementary School physical education teacher, held a sign that read, “Thank you for all you do?”
“Every email I get from an administrator ends with this. It’s patronizing,” he said. “If they want to thank me, they could thank me by giving me what my contract says, what they promised me.”
Elizabeth O’Donnell’s sign identified her as an “aspiring member of the babysitters’ club.” Patton had offered teachers identified as “aspiring leaders” a chance to volunteer in the kids camps for the children of attendees at the conference, according to a July 18 email. But Patton said Friday night the volunteers did more than the kids camps, including judging the “team building ‘Leadership’ submissions” from the administrator teams.
“I have too much self-respect to be in there,” said O’Donnell.
Drivers of some of the cars passing by honked in support of the teachers, and some support came from the community.
Mickey Gargan of the Collier County Democratic Executive Committee walked with the teachers.
“Every year, teachers work hard on fundraisers through carwashes, bake sales, selling candy, etc. All of the funds raised go back to the children,” said CCEA Executive Director Jonathan Tuttle.
“Teachers spend hundreds upon hundreds of their own dollars every year on their students,” Tuttle said.
“If the district raised the same amount of funds for teachers and students for this one event, every single teacher would have $35 more to spend on their students, or would save $35 of their own money they already spend.”
Patton said the district is grateful that its teachers receive $250 per year in state funding to purchase supplies.
Tuttle said the turnout for the rally was twice what he expected.
“It’s a hot day, this is short notice, and here they are,” he said. “It gives you some indication of the level of indignation right now among teachers.”