Teachers have always gone above and beyond what is required, but the pressure of easing young children’s fears after a string of unsolved murders in Seminole Heights on top of tense salary negotiations with Hillsborough County Schools led teachers at Edison Elementary to protest early Thursday morning before class.
“We are trying so hard to not only continue teaching the curriculum, but to protect our children,” said Alyce Kushner, a reading specialist who helps struggling students at Edison Elementary. “So many of them feel unsafe, and we’re trying very hard to make them feel warm and comfortable.”
Kushner was one of a couple dozen teachers who came to protest what thousands of teachers across the district have called unfair contract negotiations with the district.
“We did what we were supposed to do. We opted in, we honored our contract, we became highly effective, and now we deserve to be paid that extra step we’re supposed to get.”
For nearly half a year, the county’s teachers’ union has been in negotiations with the district over raises promised to employees who’ve waited three years for an increase.
“Our teachers and our staff are very frustrated. We’ve been at the bargaining table for five months, and the district hasn’t offered any kind of counter or any suggestion. They’ve just come back after five months and said simply, ‘no,’ to any increases for any staff in the district,” said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
“The vast majority of our teachers are on a salary scale that we agreed to back in 2013, which has their salaries remain the same for three years, and they only move at the fourth year if they’ve had satisfactory ratings on their evaluations all those years,” she said.
The district has said repeatedly there is no money in the budget for raises. A spokesperson declined to comment on this story due to ongoing negotiations.
It’s a frustrating position for people like Kushner, who often comes out of her own pocket to serve students in Seminole Heights who sometimes lack basic personal and school supplies.
“I buy shoes, and at this time of the year, I buy jackets for them. I just brought in a whole bucket of hats and mittens that are sets together because it’s going to get chilly out,” she said. “Our kids, they just come in without those things they need that help them do better in school.”
Adding to that stress is the fear the Seminole Heights community has over the four unsolved murders police believe could be linked to a single killer. “We walk students home—four or five of them yesterday because no one picked them up. We don’t want the kids walking home alone,” said Kushner, who added that many teachers are having to also explain to young children the meaning of a serial killer.
When the fourth victim was murdered on Tuesday, officials with Hillsborough County Schools immediately added additional security to schools in the Seminole Heights area. Security guards were still seen on school grounds Thursday morning.