Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Education

50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

Ulysses Floyd remembers February 1968 all too well.

Teachers by the thousands walked off their jobs across Florida. Among their concerns: low pay, poor funding, a lack of planning time, missing materials, and more.

"We were at the mercy of the School Board and what they wanted to do," said Floyd, who started teaching in Orange County in 1958. "We had no say-so over anything."

So they left — resigned, actually, because strikes weren’t allowed — to make their position clear. More than 25,000 educators in all participated at the peak of the movement, which lasted days in some counties, weeks in others.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Teachers’ unions say House Republican bill puts them at risk

Their actions marked the awakening of teachers unions as a political force in Florida. They gained traction on some key issues, including a guarantee of collective bargaining along with improved education budgets.

But the union leaders who followed now see themselves in a similar position as their predecessors from five decades ago. And they are looking to the past for inspiration.

The Florida House has advanced legislation that could lead to decertification of teacher unions that do not have at least half of eligible members participate.

To fight back, the unions plan to begin a campaign against the measure and to push for increased membership with a Monday rally marking the 50th anniversary of the state’s teacher walkout.

Scheduled for the corner of Sunlake Boulevard and State Road 54 — a highly visible and busy Pasco County intersection in the heart of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s district — the two-hour event is aimed at Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando teachers sending a message to lawmakers, as well as parents.

On Tuesday, teachers statewide have planned to wear black in honor of the anniversary.

"We need to educate the public to how the Legislature is treating public education," said Don Peace, president of United School Employees of Pasco.

Back in 1968, teachers in Pinellas County were among those who stayed out the longest, recalled Lee Benjamin, who was an assistant principal at the time. He joined the walkout, too, to back the majority of his staff at Northeast High in St. Petersburg.

"The whole idea was to improve teaching conditions and salaries at that time," said Benjamin, who retired in 1986 and later served four terms on the School Board. "We were doing a good thing for the state and the school system in the long haul."

Since then, however, the state has come "full circle," said Peace, whose father participated in the 1968 strike as a Pinellas math teacher and union steward. "Teachers are not respected. Pay is low. Working conditions are poor. And the speaker (Corcoran) has clearly exempted all other public sector unions from the conversation, and put a target on the back of teacher unions."

Peace decried legislative efforts to expand tax credit scholarships and charter school funding, saying such moves will strip funding from the district schools.

Republican leaders have argued that they are boosting per-student funding to historic levels while still providing money for school choice options. They have said they want pay for student education and are not interested in promoting the union position.

Peace said when his father went on strike, the family had only recently purchased a home. Everyone gathered to discuss what might happen if they went without a paycheck.

READ THE GRADEBOOK: The talk of Florida education

In the end, he said, they decided it was worth it to strike.

There’s no such talk now.

"We are not going to go on strike," Peace said, suggesting such a step would prove counterproductive.

He was hopeful that parents and others will side with the teachers groups, and back their ideas for public education. Perhaps the answer will come in the 2020 elections, he said.

If not, Floyd — who at 89 still sits on the Florida Education Association and Orange County Classroom Teachers Association governing boards ­e_SEmD worried the state could be heading back to what he saw as the bad old days.

"For some reason, the people in Tallahassee are making all the decisions on testing and everything. Teachers are losing a lot of rights," he said, noting that some schools are struggling to hire as a result. "It’s beginning to go back again."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

 
Comments
Sheriff: Sunlake SRO who took down student ‘did what he had to do’

Sheriff: Sunlake SRO who took down student ‘did what he had to do’

At a news conference on Wednesday, Nocco identified the officer as Richard Stackon, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1994. Stackon has spent "several years" as an SRO, Nocco said, and he had nothing in his file "that stands out." Around 1 p.m., Noc...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Converting Ridgewood High generates excitement, dismay

Converting Ridgewood High generates excitement, dismay

NEW PORT RICHEY — Chris Dunning is a bundle of energy as he greets families to Wendell Krinn Technical High School’s first open house.He talks rapid fire about the opportunities to earn college credits and gain career training while also completing a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hernando schools superintendent ‘pink-slipped’ by public following firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary

Hernando schools superintendent ‘pink-slipped’ by public following firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary

BROOKSVILLE –– A room full of people wearing purple erupted in frustration before Hernando County school officials Tuesday night, scolding Superintendent Lori Romano for her recent firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary, which has been struggling ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Hernando school officials deny Chehuntamo charter school on second try

Hernando school officials deny Chehuntamo charter school on second try

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday denied the 2019 opening of Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School, a charter school proposed by the same group that applied once before in 2017.The team behind the school, said to be for ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Hernando School Board okays second district-wide survey to evaluate superintendent

Hernando School Board okays second district-wide survey to evaluate superintendent

BROOKSVILLE — A second district-wide survey to evaluate the performance of Superintendent Lori Romano soon will go out to about 3,000 Hernando County School District employees, giving them a chance to weigh in on the job she is doing.The instrument, ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins is proud of his record in boosting high school graduation rates and inroads he has made in marketing the nation’s eight largest school district.His seven bosses on the School Board...
Published: 04/25/18
Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

The family of the 18-year-old Sarasota high school student under fire for the racist prom proposal he sent out on social media this weekend has publicly apologized for their son’s actions. They also said that as a result of his actions, he wil...
Updated: 11 hours ago
SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

LAND O’LAKES — A school resource officer at Sunlake High School is under investigation after he tried to take a female student into custody on Tuesday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.School officials asked the SRO remove the student f...
Published: 04/24/18

Battle continues over west Pasco school rezoning

Jim Stanley does not give up without a fight.The west Pasco County parent who brought down the school district’s 2017 attendance zone revisions, leading the administration to change its procedures along the way, has filed a new challenge to the syst...
Published: 04/24/18
Crews Lake eighth-grader already capable musician

Crews Lake eighth-grader already capable musician

SPRING HILL — Rose Dodd, 2 months old, couldn’t yet grasp a rattle, but there she was years ago at hand-bell choir practice at Keystone United Methodist Church in Odessa.Rose, 14, a Crews Lakes Middle School eighth-grader, is back at hand-bell practi...
Published: 04/24/18