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EXPLOITATION by the Book

Teacher says Florida underfunds and undervalues public education

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Most people don’t know it, but Duval County’s public schoolteachers have been working without a contract since the last one expired last July. A huge sticking point had been the amount of raises for teachers, which is going to get a little wonky for a moment.

Seven years ago, after Senate Bill 736 passed, districts were forced to change how they evaluated and paid teachers. Now student test scores would factor heavily into how school districts do both. In the last contract Duval Teachers United and the district negotiated in 2014, two pay scales were created. One pay scale was for teachers who were hired after 2010; another bill stripped teachers of work protections, which were commonly and inaccurately referred to as tenure, putting new teachers on one-year contracts from which they could be let go for any or no reason at the school year’s end. The other pay scale, called the “grandfather pay scale,” was for veteran teachers who still had work protections.

Teachers without work protections could expect a $1,000 raise if they received an effective evaluation, $2,000 for a highly effective one, while teachers on the grandfather pay scale received more modest wage increases, though they could give up their job protections and join the new pay scale should they choose. I—and most veteran teachers I know—chose to remain on the grandfather scale.

That brings us to the current negotiation, with the sticking point of the $1,000 and $2,000 raises. The district, feeling the pinch from the previous superintendent’s financial mismanagement, started the 2017-’18 school year $12 million in the hole. Couple this with the state continuously (in my opinion) criminally underfunding education and the district was caught between a rock and a hard place.

So teachers started the year without a contract and without any raises—not $1,000 nor $2,000 nor the more modest raises that were negotiated. Likewise, stipends for hard-to-fill positions or for teachers who worked at special schools were held back and, as you can imagine, as the year dragged on, this caused more frustration for many.

That frustration, however, may be coming to an end, as the district and union reached a tentative agreement the week of Jan. 8, wherein the $1,000 and $2,000 raises were kept intact. That should’ve been the end of the story. Except it’s not, not even close, because as long as we have a government in Tallahassee and education leaders here at home who continue to underfund and kneecap public education, we will continue to have problems.

Florida is chronically near the bottom when it comes to education funding and, factoring in inflation, our schools get less than they did in 2007, the year before the Great Recession. Furthermore, now, thanks to last year’s House Bill 7069, the district is required to share what meager funds it has with charter schools, many of which are for-profit.

Locally, Duval County School Board Member Scott Shine supported the measure because he said he expected Tallahassee to dramatically increase education funding. It did not. He also said he believed union teachers would lose their jobs—but that’s a topic for a different post.

Last fall, at a board meeting discussion about suing the state over House Bill 7069, Shine said the Republican members of the Duval Delegation voted for the bill because they didn’t know what was in it and because it was House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s priority, and those members were afraid to cross the speaker.

Then there’s local businessman Gary Chartrand, whose name you’ve no doubt heard a lot. He’s responsible for bringing Teach for America, which puts non-education members through a six-week access course and then into our neediest schools, where they’re supposed to serve a two-year commitment, so that our most vulnerable students see a revolving door of teachers—the exact opposite of what they need.

He also brought the KIPP charter school to town and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, after Chartrand made large donations to Mayor Lenny Curry, changed its rules so it now funds part of the KIPP school day; before this, it had funded only after-school programs. Mayor Curry, Chartrand and JCC might argue that correlation is not causation, but the relationship is clear.

Chartrand also joined with a group of philanthropists to create the Quality Education for All Fund, which pledged nearly $50 million over five years to Duval County Public Schools, the only caveats being that the district must spend the money on what they told it to and the district had to continue funding the programs when the money ran out. Last summer, when the district balked, Chartrand threatened to withhold money the QEA had promised but not yet delivered.

Perhaps worst of all, though, Chartrand is now finishing his second term on the State Board of Education, despite the fact he has no education experience, was never a teacher and sent his children to expensive private schools. While on the board, he advocated for teachers to lose work protections, but he’s never advocated for Tallahassee to adequately fund education.

Duval County is at the epicenter for what ails education in Florida. Here we have a school board member who roots for schools to fail so union teachers can be fired and for-profit charter schools can make even more money; a mayor who has rules changed to fund his donor’s pet project; a delegation that’s ignorant about what they’re voting on and did so only to please a powerful legislator; and an influential businessman out of his depth who wields money like a club, gives campaign donations to get what he wants and threatens when he doesn’t.

Despite my spending much of the last decade criticizing DCPS, I do believe we have such promise—but it’s a promise we’ll never meet as long as the city reflexively votes for and supports people like Shine, Chartrand and the Republican members of the Duval Delegation who seek to harm our schools.

So, Duval Teachers United and Duval Public Schools have finally negotiated a new contract and I sincerely believe each has done the best they can. Unfortunately, it’s a contract in which most teachers don’t have work protections, will pay them far below the national average and what professionals with the same level of education receive because, sadly, that’s all the state of Florida allows.
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Guerrieri, a longtime Duval County teacher, manages the Education Matters blog.

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