TAMPA, Fla. – For the next week, teachers in Hillsborough County will work no more than eight hours each day this week to protest a decision to not provide a promised $4,000 raises to teachers who qualified.
Teachers will be “working to contract,” meaning they will only work their scheduled 8-hour workdays and nothing more — no afterschool activities, no grading papers at home, no coming in early to tutor.
“This action is not intended to harm students and our members will prioritize teaching and learning,” reads a post on the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association Facebook page. “Quite the contrary, our action is to call attention to the need for our district to reexamine its priorities and actually put students and educators first.”
Hillsborough Classrooms Teachers Association president Jean Clements said it's about proving a point.
"This is an opportunity to really show the whole community how much we really care about our kids and schools because normally we’re putting in a lot of hours beyond the 8-hour day," she said.
Teachers demonstrated outside several schools early Monday morning, including C. Leon King High School. The demonstrations will continue outside several schools throughout the week, Clements said.
The protests stem from a decision by district officials to renege on a promised $4,000 pay bump after three years for teachers who received successful evaluations.
Under the plan, salaries were to remain the same for three years before increasing for teachers who earned at least a satisfactory rating every year.
However, district officials contend that roughly $200 million in raises have, in fact, been distributed to teachers over the last four years, making Hillsborough teachers the second highest paid in the Tampa Bay region on average.
School leaders did not break any contract by denying the promised raises because the state's right to work laws require teachers to renegotiate contracts and working conditions annually, union director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins conceded last month.
District official largely blame a drop-off in state funding that has not kept up with pay increases. School leaders have cited the need for money elsewhere, like building maintenance.
On the day Hillsborough teachers began their "work to contract," Governor Rick Scott happened to be visiting Mitchell Elementary School in Tampa where he touted his record on education spending. Scott said since taking office in 2011 state funding for K-12 public schools in Florida has increased by more than $3 billion.
Scott, when asked about pay increases for teachers, said he was focused on getting more grant funding to pay for supplies, which are largely paid for out-of-pocket by teachers.
State lawmakers and the governor have faced criticism for expanding public funding for the state's private charter schools.
In addition to “working to contract,” some teachers have also taken part in so-called “grade-ins,” which is when they gather in a large, public space like a mall to do work they usually do at home. More "grade-ins" will likely happen in Dec., according to Clements at several area malls including the Brandon Mall, Citrus Park Mall and the International Plaza.
Both sides head back to the bargaining table on Monday, Dec. 4 for their first meeting since Oct.
Asked how long this could go on for, Clements said if the district does not move on its position, an impasse could be declared which would add several more months to the already drawn out process.
"That sets up a procedure where both sides will make their case to a hearing master and we’ll see how they weigh in on whether the district could or should do more than what they’re offering," she said.
"This is not just about money, this is teachers feeling like promises have been broken."
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