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Teachers consider protest but prepare for spring break

Teachers will wait until after spring break to decide whether to follow Deltona Elementary School's lead and refuse to work beyond the hours set out in their contract, teachers union president Cliff Wagner said Wednesday.

On Friday, 50 of 51 teachers at Deltona signed a letter to administrators pledging to work no more than the required 7} hours a day as a protest against what they feel is low pay and a lack of respect from district administrators.

Tuesday evening, union representatives informally supported the Deltona teachers but decided to leave it up to each school whether to follow suit.

With a one-week break beginning today and grades due, however, school staffs will not have time to decide how they will react, said Francine Bogart, a union representative from Central High School.

"Central High has really come together over this," Bogart said. "And from what I understand, Hernando High and Springstead feel similarly. I think some kind of action will be taken, but there isn't enough time to organize before vacation."

Bogart said she tentatively has scheduled a teachers' meeting at Central for April 7, the day school resumes, to discuss whether to join the Deltona protest.

"Some of our teachers are already teaching to contract on their own," she said. "They've had it. Some are doing things like sitting in parent-teacher conferences and telling parents, "I'm sorry, it's 3:15, I have to leave. I don't get paid to work past 3:15.' "

Maureen Richie, a union representative from Parrott Middle School, said teachers there already canceled spring field trips that would have extended beyond the normal school day.

"Once a year we tend to take a trip that goes to 9 or 10 at night," Richie said. "We're looking at canceling field trips and carnivals and things like that that normally happen in the spring and teachers are expected to do without compensation."

During an impasse hearing this month, the School Board voted to give teachers 1.86 percent in additional money for pay increases. The average $680 raise _ one of the lowest in Florida for a district that already had the 58th-lowest pay of the state's 67 counties, according to the union _ prompted the Deltona teachers to take action.

"Even with the additional work and diminishing compensation, we have continued to show up to work praying for change, and year after year are constantly told, "Things will be better next year,' " reads the letter from the Deltona teachers. "Our situation has finally overwhelmed our hope."

The letter went on to say that events such as evening functions, field trips and some extracurricular activities would not be staffed by teachers. After-school activities for which teachers receive supplemental pay, such as sports and music, would not be threatened.

The Deltona letter also said that work teachers take home, such as grading papers or writing newsletters, would stop.

School Board member Jim Malcolm said Tuesday that the teachers are within their rights to work to the letter of their contract, but he called any action that harmed the academics of the school "unprofessional."

Superintendent John Sanders said the Deltona protest seemed "counterproductive."

Both Wagner and Bogart said that in addition to the small pay increase, teachers are upset about the way School Board members reached their decision.

They believe the board violated Florida's public meetings law by going into a closed session during the impasse hearing. The union, however, has not pressed charges.