ABC’s of Working the Contract (WTC)

Teachers protest outside the Nov. 14 Hillsborough County School Board meeting, led by union president Jean Clements.  [GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES | Times]
Teachers protest outside the Nov. 14 Hillsborough County School Board meeting, led by union president Jean Clements. [GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES | Times]
Published Nov. 27, 2017|Updated Nov. 27, 2017

"Working the contract," a week-long protest against the Hillsborough County School District's labor stance, is precisely as it sounds, according to this fact sheet from the teachers' union. If the contract says to stay after school every Tuesday for a faculty meeting, the teacher will stay.  If she is being paid extra to tutor during lunchtime, she will tutor during lunch time.

But those heeding the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association's call will avoid many other activities through the end of this week.

They are encouraged to walk in and out of their schools together at the beginning and end of each day, and to post pictures with these social media hashtags: #PublicSchoolProud, #UnionStrong, and #HillsYeah.

“Please fight that urge to work” after hours, union representative Valerie Chuchman advised her fellow teachers at Riverview High School. “Enjoy your family, friends, pets, or a good book.  Not working after 3:20 will not set the apocalypse into motion.  I promise.”

The union website also has a PowerPoint and sample messages and talking points that teachers can use to to alert parents to this temporary change in their routine. The materials counsel teachers not to discuss the matter with their students, and to speak about it with adults only off-site and outside classroom hours.

Webb Middle School teacher Joseph Cool posted this message to parents on his Facebook:

"Please be patient this week with teachers while we try to reset the district administrations priorities and work to the contract. We will prioritize instruction and planning, but there won't be much time for us to do things like input grades, make phone calls, answer emails, or do extra tutoring. This isn't about trying to hurt students, and is only a short term action to show the district how much we do. We are trying to make things better in the long term for teachers and students alike. Please support your teachers this week while they take a stand."

The district in this information sheet from Nov. 1, makes the point that in the last four years it has granted more than $200 million in raises even though state funding has not kept pace with growth, and Hillsborough has massive infrastructure needs.

The union, however, says the $200 million figure is misleading as it applies to all employees, not just those it represents. The union also takes issue with the term "raise." Even though more than 4,000 teachers are due for a $4,000 pay increase, the union says that money represents credit for a year of service. The district, likewise, argues against the idea that it is violating a contract by withholding the money. That's because, under Florida law, pay can be negotiated every year, regardless of what is written in a pay plan.

The union also takes issue with the district and School Board's cordial relationship with for-profit charter school companies. While board and district leaders say they are following state law by embracing privately managed charters, those schools are growing competition for both students and state funding. Shortly before the Thanksgiving break, Superintendent Jeff Eakins cut the ribbon at SLAM, a Citrus Park sports-themed charter school that is managed by Academica, a large for-profit company based in Miami.

Later in the day, at a School Board meeting attended by hundreds of protesting teachers, the board unanimously approved two more SLAM schools that hope to serve 2,750 students.