Thursday, April 19, 2018

Eakins’ remarks on teacher pay hit a nerve

Hillsborough teachers are reacting to this article about Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins' remarks to the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board. They also are mobilizing to appear in large numbers at this Tuesday's 3 p.m. School Board meeting, again in blue shirts, as they did on Nov. 14.

Here is the full sound file of his hour-long interview, which included some discussion about the current labor dispute with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.  It also featured updates on progress the district has made in the last two years, including a current plan to offer free preschool to 400 children in the schools they will likely attend for kindergarten.

Here are some of the responses to the discussion on teacher pay:

From Caleb Velazquez, Spanish teacher, Riverview High:

“Good afternoon Mr. Eakins,

We met 3 years ago at a Hispanic Heritage essay contest winners celebration at the Columbia restaurant in Ybor. One of my students won 3rd place and she was being honored at the event. I was able to meet you and shake your hand and you struck me as a man full of integrity and honesty. Now I would love to still think this is true.

"This is my 4th year as a teacher. I graduated with a different major and went through the ACP program successfully and made it my goal to become better as a teacher becauase the kids deserve it. I love my job and love working with my students. I have taught Every Spanish except AP and it hasn't come without its share of challenges. It hasn't been easy not being an education major and learning everything on the job, but I've had great mentors and teachers to help me out. I have been an effective teacher every year and am striving to become a highly effective teacher. I know I will get there. As a fourth year teacher, however, I am up for a pay raise. I didn't decide to become a teacher for the money, but more for the purpose, but I also understand that this pay raise has been a "thank you" for a job well done over the years. And I feel like all the agreements this year have been a total disregard for what we do and what we represent as teachers.

"I understand budgets and numbers and I have taken that into consideration, but I also feel like teachers should be honored for their hard work and not treated as though we don't matter. It is one thing to talk about transparency and actually be transparent. Another is to talk about it and then have certain things come to light later on. We don't deserve that as teachers and if we really are going to be a county that is coveted by others then we need to start from the top. Accountability is key and I know I don't have to tell you that; because like I said: I saw the integrity in you. But I want to see it to its full capacity because whether we want it to or not, you represent us. And we want a superintendent that represents us with honesty and integrity.

“Thank you for reading, I hope we can move past this and teachers get the respect they deserve.”

* * * * * *

From James A. Stewart, a chemistry teacher at King High School and a union executive board member. Stewart, in his letter, is expressing his own opinion and not that of the union:

"Is our district in a good place financially? No. Is it because of teacher salaries being high? No. Let's be clear about a couple of things:

1.) Our salary scale is commensurate with other districts our size, even lower.

2.) If the district honors the scale it negotiated 4 years ago, it will not increase payroll any more than it was the previous year, or year before that. It will not cost them $17 million, as they have spun it. It will not cost them anything. In fact payroll might even be less, because of retirements and teachers leaving and being replaced with less experienced ones. That $17 million is not a cost, it is how much they will save by balancing their budget on teachers backs.

3.) Over the last 4 years since it was negotiated, the district has only added one very small cost of living increase to the pay scale. Its purchasing power is 7% less than when it was negotiated. We have all taken a 7% pay cut.

"So, what is responsible for the districts financial woes, and what should we do about it?

"The Gates grant was expensive, and the district failed to plan for what it would do when it expired. It is as simple as that. They failed to even try to raise the matching funds that the grant stipulated they raise, and when the Gates foundation pulled out without even giving us 20% of the money, the district was left with a vastly inflated bureaucracy, and an army's worth of new positions it had to do something with. We are left with program after program, and position after unnecessary position, still operating and costing us tens of millions of dollars. As a district, we are spending money in some places like it's the golden age of school funding, and then simultaneously telling teachers that they and their classrooms need to sacrifice in order to keep those things.

"Here it is: Teaching and learning are the basics of a school system, and should be funded with priority. Are mentors nice for new teachers to have? Heck yes, but we went decades without them and did fine. Its a very expensive and unnecessary program, and it is more important to offer competitive salaries and fund classrooms. Same goes for "Teacher Talent Developers". These a programs that would be nice if we had the money, but we don't, and we can survive without them.

"There are also programs like the Principal Pipeline, Future Leaders Academy, and principal coaches that were at one point grant funded programs, but are now costing us millions. We can do without these things. In fact, losing the principal coaches, who seem to just be micromanaging principals and the lesson plans of teachers, would probably make the district a better place to work for teachers and principals alike. They represent a layer of management and bureaucracy that is totally unnecessary. The number of 6 figure salaries in this district has ballooned in recent years because of these unnecessary programs.

"Teachers are rightly angry because this is a failure of leadership and planning, and teachers are being asked to pay for it. This district needs to get its priorities in line, and stop acting like anyone besides those that interact directly with students – like teachers, ESPs and principals, are the ones that matter most. Is it time to makes cuts? Yes! Are teacher salaries and classrooms that place for it? Absolutely not!"

* * * * * *

From Jason Hunsaker, a social studies teacher and tennis coach at Riverview High School. Hunsaker also wrote to Eakins and the School Board:

"I am writing you today after, yet again, reading about your statements in the news of how well teachers in Hillsborough are paid.  What you continually fail to mention are those of us at the bottom, and how the other counties are out-paying at that level.  At a base salary of $38,200, I would make more going to any other county in the area.  While this is the "beginning" of my "fourth" year teaching here in Hillsborough County, due to starting after 2nd semester began, and the way years are calculated, I will actually be beginning my FIFTH year as a teacher during the 2nd semester this school year.  A "highly effective" 5th year teacher, and yet I'll be paid like it is my first; In what world is that right?

"I started a life here in Hillsborough county based off of the pay scale I was promised.  My wife will be cutting down on the hours she is working next year as she will be going to school full time.  We were planning on this first step in my salary to offset the loss in her income in order for her to be able to do that. Please honor contract that I signed up under, so my family is able to better itself."

From Lisa Allton, a Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Riverview High School:

“Our county hired many NEW principal mentors and their starting salaries were well above what a teacher makes at the highest end of the scale. If an administrator has been groomed for years and hired by the county to oversee an school based on outstanding qualifications, then why should someone with less experience be telling them how to do their jobs? Most principals are not happy about this any more than teachers were when a similar program was forced on them and then discontinued because of costs. Yet, the county maintains they have the money for this new program but not for the promised cost-of-living increases? Interesting perspective.

“I am a Highly Effective teacher (whatever that might add), teaching 38 years with a Masters Degree and several certifications. I am at the TOP of the pay scale at $66,000 (NOT $84,000, Mr. Eakins).  I have been at this level for 4 years and will stay at this pay as long as I continue to work. For a degreed professional to be at this level, especially with many years of experience, would be laughable in the business world. I could have moved across state or county lines (as some teachers did), and increased my earnings sizably, but this is my home. I wish I had not depended on the written/verbal promises of my state or county. First, the state began requiring teachers to pay part of our retirement that was previously included in our benefits. Then, the county refuses to give standard COLA increases. Now, I am struggling to do my best into my sixties, with cancer, because I can’t  afford to retire with what would be doled out to me from the state. Any one of these factors would decrease incentive to do above and beyond basic requirements. All these factors together? My perspective.

“Our county continues to place teachers as their last priority. Yes, we increased our salary when the county accepted the Bill Gates funding, but we had to give up our rights to tenure in order to get the badly needed increase!  Now the county has to find ways to take away our COLA  and any earned raises because they failed to plan for what would happen if that money was pulled. Morale is at an all time low, but teachers still go far and beyond what is required every day in our jobs and we work after hours to ensure that the students are always well taken care of-  that is our highest calling. The school board knows this full well… and so they don’t worry about us. The REAL perspective”.

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