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Pupils shouldn't be pawns in salary protest

The Hernando County School Board and Superintendent John Sanders knew when they handed out puny 1.86 percent raises to teachers this month that the teachers would not be happy. What they may not have counted on was that the teachers, disgusted with the pittance, would do such a good job of voicing their displeasure to parents and through the media. Subsequently, a sympathetic public has taken the teachers' side.

But now the teachers may run the risk of losing that public support.

Fifty of the 51 teachers at Deltona Elementary School announced this week that they would take part in a work slowdown, which means they will not work beyond the 7} hours their contract requires. The protest will preclude the teachers from engaging in any after-hours functions, such as field trips, school carnivals, sporting events and graduations.

This is not the first time teachers have used those above-and-beyond duties, which they feel are taken for granted, to make a point about measly raises.

But this year, the teachers at Deltona have decided to carry it one step further, declining to work at home to grade papers, or to stay after school to tutor struggling pupils or meet with concerned parents.

So far, the Deltona teachers are the only group that has announced the slowdown. Teachers at other schools are considering it, but probably will not make a decision until after the spring vacation, which begins today for students.

Given the trifling raises, the teachers have good reason to be miffed. No one will blame them for taking their case to the public and vehemently protesting the insulting raise. But a work slowdown amounts to misdirected anger, placing pupils in the cross fire between the teachers and the board.

The pupils, and their parents, are the innocents in this fight. The teachers at Deltona, as well at other schools where slowdowns are being considered, must keep that fact paramount in their minds. They should be very careful to do nothing that would jeopardize the quality of education available to our young people.

Union president Cliff Wagner says that because Florida law prevents teachers from striking, a work slowdown is their "only remedy" to let the board and public know they are fed up with the board's indifference to their financial needs.

But there are other ways to show their displeasure, and those avenues should not be overlooked. Teachers can begin work now to gather grassroots, year-round support for electing board members who will make teacher raises a priority. They also can lobby the board to force the superintendent to be more responsive to their wishes. The teachers also may want to concentrate on strengthening their union leadership.

Even though Hernando County and most Florida counties choose to not pay their teachers as professionals, that indignity does not release them from their obligation as professional educators.

The teachers, more so than in years past, have done a good job of stressing their dissatisfaction to the School Board and convincing the public that their raise requests are reasonable. It would be a shame to allow a widespread work slowdown to negate that progress.

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