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Teacher protest means no extra time on job

Teachers at Deltona Elementary School are urging the rest of the district's teachers to join them in protesting one of the lowest raises in the state by refusing to work longer than a 7}-hour day their contract requires.

Union officials from all 15 schools met late Tuesday afternoon and, while supportive of the protest, decided to leave it up to each school and teacher whether to join the Deltona teachers.

"Reaction was very favorable," said Deltona teacher Missy Keller after the union meeting. "Everyone is behind this. We've just reached a point where we can't take any more."

Unlike a similar movement last school year to work to the letter of the contract, where events like festivals and extracurricular activities were affected, Deltona teachers say they will carry their protest over to grading school work.

"More and more often, teachers are assuming additional roles and responsibilities in the lives of our students," reads a letter to administrators from 50 of the 51 teachers at Deltona Elementary. "It is an understatement to say that we are frustrated to see our work load consistently increase while our pay has consistently decreased."

Superintendent John Sanders, who recommended the 1.86 percent raise the School Board approved earlier this month, said he is "very disappointed" in the teachers' actions.

"I don't know what this accomplishes," he said. "It seems counterproductive to me."

Teachers union officials say Hernando's teachers have lost an average of $3,000 to inflation during the past decade. The 1.86 percent raise came to an average of $680 per teacher, although some teachers received no raise at all.

The letter from Deltona said teachers would not participate in evening functions, after-hour field trips or after-school activities, unless they are given supplemental pay for their work. Teachers vowed to continue their protest until their "situation is resolved in a fair manner."

Deltona's union representative, Mary Weber, said that means teachers will work only a 7} day until their contract is settled sometime next winter. And then will pick up only the extras if they are satisfied with the deal.

The events that teachers will skip include graduations, sporting events, festivals and fairs. Teachers are paid supplements to coach sports or lead band, so those activities would not be affected.

A year and a half ago, the teachers union urged members to work only their 7}-hour day. The action led to the cancellation of some extracurricular activities and fall festivals. This time it appears the teachers are willing to go further.

"If tests and papers are not graded at school, then they will not get done until the next day," said union president Cliff Wagner. "We don't want to affect the classroom like that, but how can we be expected to work beyond what we have been paid for when we are getting treated like this? We are not allowed to strike, and this is the only remedy teachers have at their disposal."

School Board member Jim Malcolm, a former teacher, said he respects the right of teachers to "follow their hearts," but said he is disturbed by threats to stop grading outside of school.

"I trust that none of our teachers would do anything to harm our children," he said. "Working to contract is not illegal. Refusing to grade papers after school, however, is unprofessional and wrong. Refusing to attend a festival does not severely impact the education of the children or academics. But if a youngster needs extra help after school and is refused to make a point, now that's unprofessional."

But Weber said teachers haven't been paid like professionals.

"For the second year in a row we've gone to impasse and then received a pittance," she said. "We don't even meet cost of living with these raises. We've all just had it with this treatment."