Recurring theme of school board citizen comments: ‘We are worth it.’

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Recurring theme of school board citizen comments: ‘We are worth it.’

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 13:44
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Citizen Input (General Topics) HCSD Regular School Board Meeting Dec. 11, 2018

School Counselors

Ruth Owen – As a certified school counselor, she expressed concern over the number of open positions, the shortage of interns, and the increasing complexity of work they do. Owen referred to the mental health needs of students as discussed by Ms. Patel, and the amount of work they are assigned, including the registration and enrollment of students in the PHSC Dual Enrollment program, as discussed by Schlum-Hughes. 

Counselors do not qualify for bonuses, for recognition, or paid a supplement, Owen said.  She stated her hope that the board would find a way to encourage interns to come to Hernando County. Owen’s position was posted when she became coordinator of the Cambridge AICE program. 

There was one applicant who met the requirements for the position. He did not accept the position because of the salary and workload. Owen would like to see programs that would help instructional staff and others earn the master’s degree required for the position. Certified school counselors are the only instructional staff required to have a master’s degree, she said. 

Surrounded by other high school counselors, Owen said, “It’s time to do things like this again, to ensure that qualified counselors want to come to Hernando County to serve our students. Our students deserve it.”

Open teaching positions

Vince LaBorante – As president of the Hernando County Teacher’s Association (HCTA), LaBorante is concerned with the number of open teaching positions (40+) as of 12/16/18. Long-term substitute teachers may fill a need, but they do not have the qualifications students need. This has negative effects on approximately 1,000 students and the county in multiple areas, he said, putting the students at risk of failing. 

LaBorante stated that teacher salaries are one reason that qualified teachers are not applying. Initial salaries are acceptable, but he said that salary increases do not keep pace with other sectors. Between the third and fifth years of teaching, teachers evaluate their career choice.

 “The more that we stagnate our teachers’ salaries,” LaBorante said, “The more we risk losing dedicated, qualified teachers that love the profession, love working with kids, but decide to leave in order to economically survive. Let us show our teachers that they are monetarily worthy and valued.” 

School year has potential

Susan Jackson – Listing changes in the composition of the school board, a new superintendent, and other changes, Jackson stated that the remainder of the school year has potential. She referred to the presentations from earlier in the meeting and providing free meals to school children as examples of some positive accomplishments.

“I hope 2019 brings stability without stagnation, consideration coupled with cooperation, and recognition that we are stronger together, because we will need to be for the work that lies ahead,” Jackson said.  

More than one job

Patricia Cramer – Cramer, who has taught for 17 years, says she has worked several additional jobs during that time to make ends meet. Trying to manage economic survival, educating and developing students, and contributing in the community are all things teachers must do.  

Cramer invited the board members to hold Town Hall meetings at the schools and hear the positive and negative feedback. While some things are going well, she said, others must be addressed on behalf of the students and their needs.  

Teacher wages and sales surtax

Gregory Champagne – Champagne has taught for 14 years. The last 10 years have been during a time of economic recession. School budgets were cut, and teachers were not given raises so that the schools could continue to function.  

“The recession is over by all economic measurements,” Champagne said. The only indicator that is lagging behind all the others is wages. When budgets were tightened, teachers kept their jobs, but received no pay increases. They understood that schools needed to remain open. 

Without the half-cent sales tax, teachers were at risk of losing pay or positions to keep the buildings functional. “It’s amazing how we were the first to be offered as sacrifices,” Champagne said.  The Half-Cent sales tax has provided funding for the facilities, but teachers continue to feel the effect of the flat wage. 

Springs Coast

Cheryl Paradis – Springs Coast Environmental Education Center sits on 23 acres owned by SWFWMD. The property and the building are leased to the school district, at no cost.  As a Teacher on Special Assignment, Paradis is one of two paid staff. 

Paradis explained the importance of the opportunities that Hernando County students have been provided. All students in grades 2, 4, 5, and 6 can take part in field trips to the EEC at no cost, through a grant from SWFWMD. Last year, more than 600 students visited the EEC.

The field trips range in scope from nature walks to water quality studies. Pre- and post-testing shows that students increase their knowledge by up to 55% on the topics they study. Paradis praised the many volunteers who help at the center. 

Paradis invited board members to visit the EEC during a field trip so they can see the impact of the field trips on the students. She stated she plans to return through the remainder of the year to update the board. 

Extra work for teachers takes away from time with family

Daniel Fierro – Fierro stated he spends hours outside the classroom in grading, entering data, changing lesson plans, etc. because of district initiatives. Those things keep him from quality time with his family. 

Teachers give. They purchase supplies for the classroom, give of their time, assist others. Because they are among the first to give to others, Fierro said, “Please, do not make us last to receive.” 

Fierro shared these statistics from the time between 2009-2010 and 2016-2017: 
128 instructional positions – lost 
36 non-instructional positions – lost 
14 instructional support positions – lost 
51 educational support positions – lost 
800 students (approximately) – enrolled
Administrative positions – increased

“How do we expect student performance to increase when we have decreased instructional personnel?” Fierro asked. 

Purchasing classroom materials and teacher salary

Charity Simpson – Referring to a nationwide survey, Simpson stated that 94% of respondents purchase items for their classroom. She believes Hernando County would have a higher percentage. Typical spending is an average of $479 per year, with elementary teachers spending $526. Simpson said her “lead money” was spent before the school year began. 

Based on a salary of $41,000, the proposed 2.75% salary increase would be $1100. The out of pocket spending to purchase classroom materials is approximately half of that. It will not be a significant improvement. 

Last year, Simpson received an $1100 cost of living increase.  It was her largest increase since coming to Hernando County. She still cannot purchase a home on her salary. Simpson understands budget restrictions because she lives on a budget. 

Simpson asked the board for a commitment to teachers of all age groups, “Because we’re worth it.”

Guidance Counselors

Jennifer Prokop – Surrounded by other guidance counselors, Prokop expressed concern for their increasing workload, stating it makes it difficult to meet the needs of the students they are there to serve.  

At Springstead, Prokop said, there are 450 students in 9th grade. Grades 10-12 have 400+ students each. Only additional guidance counselors will help ease the load, since dividing them by grade or alphabet does not solve the problem of student to counselor ratio. 

Dual Enrollment registration alone takes a lot of time, but over the last five years guidance counselors have also been given additional tasks, such as participate committee or MTSS meetings, Prokop said. They must change grades once students complete the Edgenuity credit recovery courses or record minutes in parent-teacher conferences. “We are being asked to do much more with much less,” she said, referring to the district decision to reduce the number of guidance counselors. 

Guidance counselors take time from their families to meet students’ needs and because of the additional tasks they are assigned. However, counselors do not receive recognition or bonuses because students are not “attached” to them as they are to instructional personnel. Guidance counselors still have responsibility for those “unattached” students’ graduation or enrollment. 

The need for guidance counselors will increase, Prokop said, as good counselors are becoming discouraged. Experienced counselors, who were already being challenged by a heavy workload, are now trying to manage an overwhelming one. 

They want to return to the reason they became guidance counselors, to help students determine goals and careers and give them tools to be successful, and they need time in their days to do that.  

She offered the following solutions:
- Additional guidance counselor positions
- Giving recognition as critical shortage
- Prioritizing responsibilities to be more student focused

Teacher workload increase

Susan Pribil – Pribil stated that the work required of teachers has increased in the last five years, more than in any of her 34 years as a teacher in the district. She listed some of the many tasks she is required to complete during her one-hour daily planning period that are classroom-related tasks and district mandated tasks. One planning period per week is used for required meetings. 

Pribil said teachers are required to complete multiple forms documentation about accommodations, remediation, and disciplinary issues. The district requires redundancy in some areas such as attendance record keeping, which uses both electronic and paper. 

To fit all these required tasks into her day, Pribil stated she works up to three extra hours daily and usually on Saturdays, all of which is unpaid. She said her husband, who also teaches, works even longer. For teachers, family life takes second place. “Nobody should have to sacrifice family time for their job,” Pribil said.

She stated the district has funds available to increase teacher salaries, and should, because teachers are worth it. 

Teacher salary

Donna Depinet-Dasher – Though she has no small children at home, Dasher said many teachers with children at home must work two or three jobs to fill the gap between what they need and the pay they receive. 

Dasher agreed with Pribil regarding the amount of paperwork required, saying that it increases yearly or more trainings are required when the state makes rule changes. 

“Every year it seems like my students are coming to school with more issues,” she said. “Which means I have more issues.” 

Danielle Underwood – Underwood stated that the district over-budgets the teacher salaries, but unused money is returned to the fund, and some is allocated to the reserves. This has been accumulating for the last 11 years, Underwood said. The savings total approximately $61 million.  “Where is that money and why can’t our teachers and our students have it?” she asked. 

Tania Kelly – Kelly graduated Springstead High School and became a teacher. Now a guidance counselor, Kelly believes that unity (for one another, for the students, and for the community) is important. 
The lack of resources to pay teachers is not limited to Florida. Billions of dollars that would be allocated for public school students are being given to private schools through the school voucher system. “As public school teachers we are worth those billions of dollars,” she said, and recommended that those funds should remain with the public schools in the form of higher salaries and adequate materials.  

Doug Poteet – Poteet, who teaches science at Pine Grove Elementary, stated that older elementary students are becoming interested in world affairs, and while they may not understand everything, they are observant. In the district, there seems to be some discrepancy between what stories are being told about available funds ($5 million dollars that “disappeared” from one day to the next) or whether a survey to compare administrator salaries is accurate.

The board’s opinion of him did not matter, he said. What is most important is to remember why they teach. 

Poteet gave each board member a small plant, representative of a kindergarten student. “They are living organisms that you cannot put in a box. No formula. No standardized test. My challenge to you is are you going to care of them for who they are?”

Returning to the podium, Poteet said, if the $5 million dollars was misplaced or if Stratton did order a survey on administrator salaries is correct, then it represents an unmasking at the district level, as in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. 

“Our education profession is a matter of the heart…and if we can’t teach our children to love something enough to fight for it, how can we as teachers back you (the school board) if you’re not going to back us?”

Yes, the money is needed, he said. But treating teachers as if they were ignorant is wrong. At the end of the day, all Poteet cares about, he said, is what the students think of him.   

Stratton responded to Poteet’s concern about the study. There was no cost involved, and the district is not hiding anything during negotiations because the books are open for public review. Stratton encouraged Poteet, or any teacher, to speak with him directly about any concerns in the future. 

Pam Everett – Everett agreed with the comments that came before, adding that there are at least 20 teachers working two or three jobs. “What happens when they break?” she asked. Companies outside the public school offer better pay, and teachers will take it.

Everett said teacher’s vehicles have been seen on school grounds long after the school day ends and on weekends, but the parking lot at the district office is cleared by 4:30. Administration can make plans for evening or weekend activities; teachers often cannot due to the amount of work required. 

In terms of salary, she said, balance is needed so that district salaries are not so far above the teaching staff. Teachers with master’s degrees make less than an administrator with a bachelor’s degree, Everett said. She suggested a four- year salary freeze at the district level, with the money disbursed to the teachers. Without a pay increase, teachers will be forced to make a choice. 
  
Due to space restrictions, we are unable to print every comment.  Other teachers spoke in favor of a salary increase for teachers including  Patricia Greenwood, Lisa Masserio and Katelyn Baluta.

We apologize for any names misspelled. Please email [email protected] for corrections.

School Board Comments
 

Gus Guadagnino – “It is not us against you.” Guadagnino stated that it was not a question of whether the teachers deserved pay increases or not. The school board only managed available funding. He offered to drive a bus to Tallahassee, where he said the problem is. 

Jimmy Lodato – He thanked teachers and their supporters for attending and said that he was touched by their explanations and comments. They asked the board for a solution to a long-term problem. He offered to drive a second bus to Tallahassee. Lodato said teacher salaries are an issue across the state, but there is “a movement” to make a change.

Kay Hatch - She said she recognized that many of the teachers and audience members took part in the campaign to elect her to the school board and promised to do her best for them. Hatch acknowledged the validity of the problem and said she would work with the board members and with teachers with the goal of strengthening the community. 

Hatch said she had no idea what it would be like to sit on the board, and still doesn’t, since she is new. She said she wanted the teachers to know that she heard them and promised that decisions would not be made in a vacuum or with intent to harm anyone associated with the district. Hatch said she looks forward to working with the teachers as they work toward a solution.

Linda Prescott – Though things are difficult, Prescott said she has hope because of the quality of Hernando County’s teachers. She mentioned the culture of micromanagement that exists in Tallahassee as being one issue. Ten school districts were approved for tax increases, and one was even allowed to have two tax increases. The issues facing both the teachers and the board come from Tallahassee, and they (at the state level) need to be educated. 

Prescott said that these are not new issues but were common even in other states where she has worked. The perception that teachers have three-month vacations and only work during school hours has changed. The public is now realizing the importance of teachers as the future, she said, and that gives Prescott hope. “People…are finally waking up, and that to me is very, very encouraging,” Prescott said. 

Ryan Bradley – “On behalf of all of our students, your work is very much appreciated,” she said. Bradley recognized the efforts of her former and current teachers, and what all teachers do to bring students to where they are today.

Susan Duval – Duval thanked those who spoke to the board. “You speak from the heart, and always have the best interest in mind for our students. You are valued, appreciated, and supported. Together we will make this work for all.” 

John Stratton – Stratton stated he knows from personal experience how hard the teachers in the district work, including all the hours they work outside of the classroom. “We are committed to competitive salaries,” he said, at all levels, whether instructional or non-instructional. With a low unemployment rate, job seekers can be choosy. In order to fill positions (as teachers, administrators, or maintenance) higher pay is needed. 

But the funds are limited, and the district has a spending deficit. The reserve funds will not last. Unless county taxes can increase, there will be no replenishment of the reserves. Stratton said they will need to work together to find ways to increase revenue, “so you can be paid what you’re worth.” He said negotiating contracts should not focus on just a year or two.

Cutting services is not desirable, and the district does not want to repeat 2008. “But there will come a tipping point where we’re outspending what we’re bringing in,” Stratton said. He asked for input and ideas on how to increase revenue. 
 

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