Teachers use kids to protest pay raise, bonus

Teachers aren’t accepting the Collier County (FL) School district’s offer of a 1 percent bonus lying down.

More than 300 teachers, most dressed in red, turned out for Thursday’s Collier County School Board meeting to protest the district’s offer of a 1 percent bonus on top of their step increase, which is measured by years of experience.

The teachers rallied in the parking lot prior to the meeting. Many held signs with messages such as, “If we were truly paid by the hour, the School Board still owes me $12,000.” Some of their children toted signs that read “Show mommy the money.”

“We have to show the community that we are insulted,” said Emily Larson, first vice president of the Collier County Education Association and the media specialist at Naples Park Elementary School. “We have the highest cost of living in the state and the lowest percentage of increase of any district in the state. You have got to wonder how other counties are doing better.”

After the district made the offer to the teachers last week, the CCEA, which represents 80 percent of the district’s teachers, and the district are at an impasse. Because public sector employees like teachers cannot strike, they have to declare an impasse. In an impasse, the district notifies the Public Employees Relation Commission (PERC) and they send a panel of special magistrates that conduct a hearing, much like a jury trial, said Allun Hamblett, executive director of human resources for the district. The panel issues a finding of fact, which it sends to both groups and both decide whether they want to accept or reject the magistrates’ decision.

If either side rejects it, the School Board would convene and determine whether to impose the magistrates’ decision, Hamblett said.

The decision came after the district offered the teachers $5.69 million in compensation increases for the CCEA. The money included $3.6 million in step increases; $1.8 million for a 1 percent bonus for all teachers; $175,000 in middle school athletic supplements; $42,000 in increased compensation for class coverage and $35,000 in Webmaster supplement increases.

Teachers said the offer was insulting.

“I am frustrated,” said Claudia Simmons, a Naples Park Elementary teacher with 35 years of experience in Collier County. “We’re not in this career to make money, but we do have to live.’’

A 1 percent bonus would add up to $668 for Simmons, she said. “That is not a lot, especially because I am beyond the point where I get a step increase,” she said.

Superintendent Dennis Thompson said most of the teachers didn’t understand the reasons behind why the district could not give the teachers an offer of more than their step increase and a 1 percent bonus. Thompson made the offer to the standing-room only crowd Thursday to explain it to them, but most of the teachers on the advice of union leaders, left the School Board chambers.

“They have been blessed with huge economic growth and unlimited resources,” he said. “They are angry, and they have a right to be. We should be able to keep up with the cost of living.”

Thompson said several factors have contributed to the district not being able to offer more. He said the district lost $1.3 million more in per student funding from the state because the district underestimated how many students the district would lose.

“I have been alerted those numbers are declining each week,” he said. “If this continues to our February county, we may have to make up another shortfall.”

Thompson said he is “scared to death” about more budget cuts coming from the state next year.

“We have heard the words ‘train wreck’ and we have heard ‘unchartered waters.’ There is nothing we can do. This is not unwillingness on the board’s part,” he said. “There is nothing we can do.”

Von Jeffers, president of CCEA, said Thursday that beginning Monday, teachers in the district will “work to rule.” That means, they will come in at the contract-approved time and leave at the contract-approved time. Teachers, he said, would not be doing anything above and beyond the 7.5 hour day.

Pine Ridge Middle School teacher Tricia Ray said it was sad it had to come to this.

“I was just crushed,” she said when she heard about the proposed bonus. “I love my job. It is my gift. But I am a single mom with two kids in college. It’s not fair. It is a lack of respect.”


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