On the morning of Oct. 30, approximately 20-30 teachers from Steinbrenner and McKitrick participated in a peaceful rally at the front of the schools before classes began. The objective of the protest was to send a message to the school board that they should reconsider fulfilling their promise to give raises to teachers. This specific type of protest is what teachers called “working to the contract”.
This “working to the contract” involves the teacher’s being at school from 7:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. which is the length of time that they are contractually required to be there. However, most teachers are at school much earlier than the first bell- whether it be to open their classroom to students, offering study sessions for students that are struggling, or just to get ahead in their planning- and staying long after to grade papers, do ELP sessions, or plan for the next day.
“I do it for the kids,” said Michelle Yarish, who participated in the walk-in.
This is why the lack of raises for teachers can be so shocking- it isn’t a secret that teachers aren’t paid very much, but it sends a message to students that their teachers aren’t being treated with enough value.
“If I’m not even going to get paid for the hours that I’m supposed to work, why should I come in and do anything extra?” said Yarish.
Florida state law disallows teachers to strike, but as an alternative teachers lead a rally to show their discontent. The teachers hoped that the rally would send enough of a message.
A few years ago, the school district switched to a different payment system, officially being activated in the 2014-2015 school year. Teachers were skeptical but assured by the district that the change would be beneficial.
One of the biggest changes that this new system would be implementing is teachers receiving salary increases once they reach a certain experience level. In the past three years, teachers have received this scheduled increase- but unfortunately the school district has announced that it would be irresponsible to do so this year. This leaves a portion of Hillsborough County teachers without the money that was promised to them.
“As teachers, we really work very hard and we are underpaid professionals,” said Eric Vona. “To have them tell us that our time is worth even less, to be disrespected in that way, it’s demoralizing.”
Hillsborough County School District’s budget and leadership has been in turmoil for years, and this salary increase freeze is yet another issue the district needs to remedy. Increasing pressure from the teacher’s union makes this problem more prominent than ever.
The job of the union representatives at our school, Tim Harris, Jeanne Justice, and Jason Levy, is to attend union meetings and organize and share information with the teachers at school.
”A lot of teachers feel unsupported by the people in the upper-levels of our district,” said Harris. “We’ve had several promises that have been broken… It’s the responsibility of those in our school district to properly manage our money and stick to the agreements they make with us.”
More than anything, teachers aren’t robots. They have goals, and lives, and families, and their jobs affect all of that.
”We are here for the kids. But if the cost of living is continuing to go up but my pay is continuing to stay the same, it makes me struggle,” said Roschell Thybulle, “That takes a toll. It’s why good teachers quit, it’s why teachers are stressed out.”
Steinbrenner isn’t the only school expressing their frustration. Jefferson High School students staged a walk-out on Wednesday for the same cause, as well as Robinson and Alonso.
“It’s a show of solidarity. All of the teachers are standing together and we can’t be bullied. They have to deal with us,” said Vona.
Having the walk-in was especially impactful because the teachers gathered right outside the school, where passing parents and students could see. If nothing else, the picket started the flow of conversations somewhere other than the district’s conference room.
“It’s about saying that we’re not going to allow you to continue taking advantage of us,” said Thybulle.
Students all over the county need teachers like the ones at Steinbrenner- ones that don’t just do what’s contractually obligated of them but go above and beyond to help students and cater to their needs. However, if the school board keeps putting them in these tough positions, they’re going to be hard to come by.
Jordyn Dees // Co-Opinion and Co-Business Manager