Please choose one of the following drafts (or create your own) to send to our legislators in Clay County and the governor of Florida. It is very important that we make our voices heard!
580 Wells Road, Suite 2
Orange Park, Fl 32073
1279 Kingsley Avenue, Suite 107
Orange Park, Fl 32073
Office of the Governor Ron DeSantis
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Fl 32399-0001
As a public school teacher I understand the issues and decisions that matter most to our public schools and students. I believe the path to achieving a world-class education system is grounded in the idea that we need to recruit and retain good teachers. While a large increase in beginning teacher pay will recruit new teachers, it will not retain the great teachers we have here in Clay County. You must prioritize competitive salaries, benefits, and pay raises that count toward retirement to attract and retain highest quality teachers. It is also imperative that you oppose short-sighted and discriminatory bonus schemes such as the Best & Brightest scholarship. Please work on increasing the per pupil funding allocation to at least the national average. You must fully fund the costs associated with legislative mandates to include eliminating overcrowded classrooms, extended school day and year, school improvement and turnaround efforts, new teacher mentoring and safe transportation. Public education is not a partisan issue, it is a right afforded to all citizens under our constitution. As our elected officials, it is your job to ensure that this right is upheld.
I am a public school teacher and I am writing to implore you to increase funding levels to the national average for our schools so that districts in Florida will be able to recruit and retain experienced, dedicated professionals in education. Increasing per pupil spending will allow local districts to hire and retain qualified personnel with competitive salaries who will want to invest their talent in the profession of teaching. Our students deserve to be surrounded by caring adults who understand that teaching and serving in public schools means you have a lasting influence on the life of the children you serve.
The fight for public schools should not be a partisan issue. Yet Florida’s schools remain in crisis. A decade of failed bonus schemes have not helped the expanding vacancies in the classroom. Florida’s children deserve better than funding levels at 47th in the nation. I urge you to reject another bonus scheme which arbitrarily rewards some while leaving the majority behind. Teachers are not retained or recruited by such schemes. Will you stand for our kids, and chose to adequately fund Florida’s public schools? I believe that public schools can be the great equalizer which give opportunity to all citizens. You have an opportunity to make a real investment in the future of Florida by adequately funding our public schools.
Last night the school board voted AGAINST asking the County Commissioners to place a resolution on the August ballot to add an additional one mill of ad valorem millage tax to be used for school safety and operating expenses. The additional mill would cost the average Clay County property owner approximately $100 per year. Per YEAR. That’s $8.33 per month. The increase would bring in approximately $10 million for our public schools - money that is desperately needed in many areas.
The County Commissioners have insisted that the additional mill should only cover school safety. While they made it very clear last month that it is not their job to provide for the safety of our students, they seem to think it is their job to weigh in on how we choose to spend money.
We continue to send lawmakers to Tallahassee who pass down unfunded mandates with one hand and give away our tax dollars to private and for-profit charter schools through voucher schemes with the other hand. Our public schools cannot survive on the money being begrudgingly handed down from Tallahassee - money WE sent them in the form of sales and other taxes. We must raise additional money locally if we are going to provide our children with a first class education.
Several school board members expressed concern over the wording of the resolution. They said that the phrase “to enhance the safety and security of students and staff, and provide for necessary operating expenses of the School District” would confuse voters. They said they felt like they would be pulling a bait and switch on the property owners of Clay County by not spending all of the money on safety.
I have more faith in the people of Clay County. Our school system taught them how to read. “And provide for necessary operating expenses” seems pretty clear to me. We are in the business of educating people. I’m pretty confident that we could have spent the next few months explaining to the citizens of this county why this additional revenue is so critical to the operation of our school district.
While safety is extremely important, the addition of one SRO or other security personnel at each school site is not going to solve the problem. If the state truly believed it would, they would have funded the mandate. Anything less than that is just window-dressing. Surely they want to keep our children safe, right?
According to internet legend, when Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort, he replied “Then what are we fighting for?” While there is no evidence that he ever actually uttered those words, the sentiment behind it rings true for many of us in education.
If we limit ourselves to only spending additional revenue on safety, then I must ask: What are we educating them for?
Critics of traditional public schools and their teachers often say that we are against charter schools and vouchers for private schools because we are afraid of competition.
They are absolutely correct.
We are scared of competition, but not for the reasons you may think.
It’s not about our jobs, although charter schools and private schools often pay their teachers less and don’t allow them to collectively bargain their contracts to ensure fair workplace conditions. Without some level of job protection, will these teachers speak out against policies that they deem harmful to students? Will they blow the whistle on unethical business practices?
Competition is, at it’s core, ugly.
Competition means having an innovative new way to education children and NOT sharing it with other schools. Proponents of competition assume that they main driver of good teaching is the desire to be better than other teachers. If teachers/schools are not forced to compete, why would they work to improve their craft? This type of thinking has led to wrong-headed ideas like merit pay. Anyone with a few fond memories of their school days knows that their teachers were not motivated by the desire to one-up their colleagues.
It’s about the students and our nation as a whole. To demolish our public school system is to demolish the foundations of democracy. School choice is the new “separate but equal”. As much as people like to see education as an individual right, it is also a collective responsibility. If we leave our most vulnerable students behind in crumbling, defunded public schools because they are not admitted into charter or private schools, everyone loses.
The entire premise behind charter and private schools is that they are allowed to operate outside of the constraints of the laws that govern traditional public schools. Pesky laws like the requirement to accept and serve all children, regardless of their special needs or parental involvement. Many non-tradition public schools require a certain commitment on the parents’ part, such as volunteer hours. (http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/ed...) This is a commitment that many parents cannot afford.
While some laws, like IDEA, should be followed by all schools, there are others that do not apply to private schools that should be done away with altogether. The high-stakes testing requirements heaped on public schools has put them at a disadvantage when compared to their more flexible competitors. We are forced to fight with one hand tied behind our back and then we are blamed when we lose.
In his speech before a joint session of Congress a few nights ago, Trump highlighted the story of a former Duval County public school student who found success at a private school. This is by no means an attack on her. I’m glad she found success. The problem is, her success came at a cost.
The cost is the draining of taxpayer dollars from public schools. The cost is that every other student at those public schools now gets a little less. I’m willing to bet that the public school that she attended was underfunded, understaffed, and overregulated. I’m willing to bet that her teachers were overworked and under resourced. I’m willing to bet her school didn’t meet class size amendment requirements.
Clay County is currently looking at approximately 30 allocation cuts due to the fact that we have to shell out approximately $2.5 million dollars to yet another charter school that has opened up in our county. A few students get the benefit (given the track record of some of our other charter schools, I use this term loosely) while EVERY OTHER STUDENT in our public schools loses.
If the plan is to completely dismantle public schools, it is working. Step 1: Take away their funding. Step 2: Point out how poorly they are doing (never mind whether this is true or not - it’s amazing how quickly the weeds of fear can spread by planting just a few seeds of doubt). Step 3: offer an alternative to the “failing schools” (an alternative that often profits someone with connections to the people who did the defunding). Step 4: Wash, rinse, repeat.
So while you are applauding the successes of those who were better served elsewhere, please remember that we are robbing Peter to educate Paul.
At Thursday night’s school board meeting, the district’s 2017 Legislative Priorities were reviewed and I am pleased to say that the misuse of standardized testing was at the top of the list.
However, a seemingly small piece of information was presented that could have huge ramifications for public schools. One school board member informed us that in speaking with our local legislators on this matter, she learned that we would gain more traction with the Opt Out movement if we started calling it “Parent Choice”.
That’s right. They’ll listen to us, but only if we put our arguments in language that allows them to still feel like they are being outwardly loyal to their principles. They won’t change the laws based on the outcries of thousands of students and parents. They won’t change the laws based on the expert opinions of educators. They won’t change the laws even though many of them send their children to private schools to avoid the harmful effects of their own legislative actions. In the no-nonsense world of accountability that they have created, they are asking to be coddled with doublespeak that will allow them to sleep at night.
While I understand that sometimes we have to “play the game”, Parent Choice sounds an awful lot like School Choice. They are slowly but surely trying to change the narrative surrounding public schools (now unaffectionately known as “government” schools) and get us to come along for the ride.
In one final fiscal f@#k you to the residents, taxpayers, parents, and teachers of Clay County, Superintendent Van Zant recommended that the school board approve another charter school despite the district committee’s recommendation to deny the application. The school board voted 3-2 to override the committee’s recommendation and approve St. Johns Classical Academy, with recently ousted Chairwoman McKinnon leading the charge. School board members Condon and Gilhousen followed suit. School board members Kerekes and Studdard voted to deny the application.
Kerekes brought up the fact that the district committee listed several deficiencies with the charter school’s application. Representatives from the charter school spoke before the board and provided documentation that they claimed addressed these deficiencies. Kerekes suggested that the board review the documentation and vote at a later date. Unfortunately, McKinnon was unwilling to wait – possibly because she won’t be around at a later date.
According to the district committee, one major flaw in the application was: “The application does not provide a clear and coherent educational program design for grades 912.” I’m no expert, but that seems pretty important.
I spoke before the board, urging them to deny the application. The charter schools that we already have are costing the district approximately $5.6 million per year (~800 students @ ~$7,000 FTE dollars each). The St. Johns Classical Academy has a proposed capacity of 810 students. This district will be bled dry.
For those of you who are new to the charter school racket: here’s a brief rundown. They are “public schools” in that they use public funds but they are exempt from many of the state statutes that traditional public schools must abide by. These schools can look more appealing to parents because they have more control over their school day. They can boast about less standardized testing and more electives. The part they don’t boast about is their ability to turn away students who don’t meet their criteria or do not thrive once they are there.
As charter schools siphon off students and funds, they leave neighborhood school under capacity. While those schools end up cutting teacher allocations to save money, there are many costs that do no decrease as the student population declines. With the exception of portables, schools can’t run air conditioning in one classroom but not another. The entire building and grounds must still be maintained. The allocation cuts tend to target electives first, leaving the remaining students without art, music, or other resources.
Traditional public schools are being asked to compete with charter schools with one hand tied behind our back. This new charter school was praised by several school board members for its ability to offer a “classical education”. As far as I can tell, that means the opposite of the wall-to-wall career academies that have been shoved down our throats. Parents love the idea of less testing in charter schools while teachers in traditional public schools are quitting the profession because they are so disgusted with the volume of standardized testing being forced upon our students. Traditional public schools can offer the same quality education that charter schools boast about (although the results sometimes don’t always pan out), but only if we are allowed to do our jobs. Teachers across the state are screaming JUST LET US TEACH!
This problem must be fixed at the state level. If a school district denies a charter school’s application, they can appeal to the state. Kerekes suggested that we deny the charter and let the state force it on us if they win at appeal. I completely agree. We should all be working together to send a message to the state. We should also be working together to bring more of our private school and home school children back into the public school system. Gilhousen mentioned that this new charter school would be very attractive to home school parents. Why aren’t we trying to make our traditional public schools more attractive to them?
The St. Johns Classical Academy is one gift that the people of Clay County just cannot afford. Additional charter schools will eventually force the closure of neighborhood schools. Who will be here to pick up the pieces if these charter schools abruptly shut down? Not Van Zant and McKinnon. At this rate – maybe not Condon or Gilhousen either.
Some Republicans in Clay County are expressing their resentment towards the campaign to encourage Democrats and Independents to switch parties so that they can have a voice in the August 30 election.
Well guess what: we resent having to do it.
Closed primaries may have their place in elections for legislators, but we are talking about positions that many people feel should not be partisan in the first place. What does Republican v. Democrat have to do with running our school... system?
We resent being locked out of the 2012 election - a wound that is still raw for many people but our superintendent has yet to acknowledge.
Many teachers and parents resent the intrusion of politics into our students' education.
We resent the Don Quixotesque tilting at transgender windmills.
We resent the lack of respect.
We resent not being given a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions that affect our working conditions and our students' learning environment.
We resent that we have to ask for a seat at the table when it's our table to begin with.
You say you don't like that we are "invading" your party? I think we've found something that we can agree on.
The teaching profession is under attack. Union thugs. Lazy, tenured teachers and their bloated pensions. It wasn’t always this way. Our profession used to be respected. Oddly enough, many of the people who label our system broken and call for major reforms were taught in this very system. This can mean one of three things: (1) Why are we listening to people who are clearly undereducated, having been brought up in such a broken system? (2) These individuals are the oh-so-rare exception to the rule - they are smart and successful despite this system and we should listen to their sage words of advice, or (3) The system isn’t really broken and these individuals have something to gain from the reform movement.
The change in attitudes towards teachers is fairly recent. While unions and their employers have always butted heads, the general public was brought into the fight after the Great Recession. Cities across the country found that they could not meet their public employee pension obligations. Never mind that the underlying cause was that many of these pension funds made investments in assets that were later found to be toxic - a fact known to the banks and investment companies pawning them off on these unsuspecting municipalities. Teachers, police, and firefighters bore the brunt of the public’s anger.
I am the daughter of a 43-year teaching veteran. When I decided to go into teaching 12 years ago, my dad didn’t try to talk me out of it. I think he was proud. I’ll never forget the moment we were walking through a store and a teenager walked by and said “Hey, Mayberry!” My dad looked confused and said “I don’t remember teaching her.” I said, “No, dad, she was talking to me.” We both laughed, and I knew that the rest of my life would be full of these encounters. In my 11 years of teaching economics, I’ve had the privilege to teach almost 3,000 students. Every time one of them tracks me down after graduation to tell me that they started an IRA or saved money on a car loan because of what they learned in my class, I know that I’ve made the right career decision. What other profession can claim this type of impact on their community? I love what I do, which makes it painful for me to hear my own students say that they want to go into this embattled profession. Some of my colleagues discourage them. Some of their parents do too. I try to remain neutral, but it gets harder each day.
When society attacks teachers, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are accused of being minions, manipulated and controlled by their union, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are given scripted lessons and reduced to little more than test monitors, what message is being sent to our students? When schools and teachers are graded on things that are not entirely under their control, what message is being sent to our students?
But schools are failing! We have to have accountability!
Are schools actually failing? Throw out all the bogus school grades, based on ever-changing factors with arbitrary cut-off scores. Throw out all the comparisons to other countries, who have drastically different education systems and criteria for which students get tested. Throw out the “bad teacher” anecdotes that have proven to be the exception, not the rule.
Let’s look at schools as a whole and our children as individuals. Are you happy with your child’s teacher? Are you happy with your child’s learning environment? A quote from a recent gallup survey says it all.
“Americans continue to believe their local schools are performing well, but that the nation's schools are performing poorly. More than three-quarters of public school parents (77%) give their child's school an "A" or "B," while 18% of all Americans grade the nation's public schools that well.”
This makes no sense. If the majority of parents are happy with their child’s education, why does the public have such a negative view of the public school system? The answer is that we are under attack. The education reform movement (dubbed the “deform movement” by many in education) has successfully convinced the average citizen that major changes are needed. Teachers are finally waking up and fighting back, but most of us are too overworked to deal with anything beyond our individual classrooms. We have not been good at being our own advocates, but that is slowly changing. The high-stakes testing pendulum has finally swung too far and many parents are joining the fight.
So what is this lazy, tenured, union minion advocating?
Treat us like professionals and let us do our jobs! Teachers are actually begging to be able to work harder. We want to create our own lesson plans based on our students’ needs, not read from scripted curriculums. We want to create our own classroom assessments and evaluate our own students, not take them to a lab to take another high-stakes test. Perhaps this scares people who think that testing is the only way to hold teachers accountable. Accountability rests at the local level. Parents, mentor teachers, and school-level administrators are in the best position to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Just imagine how much feedback and mentoring teachers could receive if their administrators were not so bogged down with testing and the pressures of gaming the school grade system.
So next time you are tempted to disparage an entire profession or an entire system, please consider a few things:
1.Who is telling you that we are failing and what do they have to gain from that failure?
2.Think about your favorite teachers from your school days. Would the things that made them special be able to survive in today’s high-stakes, micromanaged system?
3.How will starving our public schools of funding and forcing them to compete against charter schools make them better? When crime goes up, do we defund police departments? No. We know that the police didn’t cause the higher crime rate and areas that suffer more need more funding, not less.
4.When teachers push back against specific reforms, it does not necessarily mean that they are against change. The very nature of our profession is change. We readily embrace it when we believe that it is in our students’ best interests. We fight against it with a passion when we know that the only ones who will gain from it are those outside our classrooms.
Clay County School District: Innovate, Engage, Empower
It’s a catchy slogan. Kudos to whatever consulting firm we paid to come up with it. Sarcasm aside, I think we’ve finally got an initiative that everyone can buy into.
Thanks to the out of control rise in high-stakes testing, our students are now engaging with computer screens more than with their teachers and their peers.
Thanks to mandatory weekly PLCs that take time away from planning lessons, grading papers, and tutoring students, our teachers are now empowered to arrive at school earlier, stay later, and take more work home.
Thanks to the district’s failure to follow the intent of the class size amendment, our teachers are now engaging with more kids than ever before. And yes, I know we’re not technically in violation of the law due to the district of choice loophole. This district seems very fond of this particular loophole in the law. Too bad you didn’t care enough about your annual contract teachers to use any loopholes to help them.
Thanks to the lack of job security provided to our annual contract teachers, they are now empowered to take on additional responsibilities without earning a supplement in order to ingratiate themselves to their principals.
Thanks to the growing pressure to increase graduation rates, teachers are finding innovative ways to push kids through the system, regardless of their level of effort or learning.
Thanks to the district’s failure to budget for step and insurance increases, teachers are finding innovative ways to make ends meet, such as working second jobs.
And finally, thanks to your complete disregard for the well-being of those in their charge, the people of Clay County are now getting very engaged in the political process and are feeling empowered enough to vote you out.
Fred Gottshalk, write-in candidate for Superintendent of Schools in Clay County, recently posted this on Facebook:
"Now that Gov. Scott has signed the bill that lets children attend ANY school that their parents want them to; who will the naysayers and the union blame then???? If a person does not like their job, for whatever reason, then they are free to find employment elsewhere. If a person wants more pay, then they should take more educational courses, to increase their personal value, while working towards advancement. If you just want to be a teacher, fine............That is a very honorable profession, but you should not expect the same salary that a CEO recieves.........."
Many of the comments that followed were appalling, but they were written by private citizens who are entitled to their opinion. The most egregious example was from a regular on the Talking Clay County Politics & More page: “Real teachers, honorable teachers, caring teachers teachers who are truly dedicated to student success, those teachers, are in the profession for the outcome, not the income.”
Statements like this make my blood boil. No one would dare make that comment about a male-dominated profession. However, we as teachers need to take some ownership for this perception. How many times do you see teacher shirts, signs, posts, etc. with the following phrase: “Teaching - I’m in it for the outcome, not the income.” How cute. But cute doesn’t pay the bills. Have we just given up on decent salaries? Do we not believe that we are on par with other professionals who are paid better and treated with far more respect?
Do people who say that we are “in it for the outcome” think that we can pay our mortgages with heartwarming stories about teaching a child how to read? When is the last time you paid your utility bill with a well-constructed lesson plan? When did grocery stores start accepting payment in the form of data-driven instruction?
I can assure you that I am an honorable, caring teacher who is dedicated to student success. I honor my profession and my students by demanding that I be treated like a professional. Many teachers have done exactly what Mr. Gottshalk prescribes: We HAVE earned higher degrees (at our own expense) to increase our personal value. What do we get for that in Clay County? A $2,000 supplement for a Masters degree - barely enough to cover the cost of the student loans we took out to earn our degrees. We don’t expect to be paid like CEOs, although I would argue that our value-added to society is much greater than many private-sector executives.
Educational outcomes and decent teacher incomes are not mutually exclusive concepts. Teachers are expected to work for practically nothing because “we love the kids”. Try that line on other professions. Don’t doctors and nurses love their patients? Don’t members of the military love their country? Don’t computer engineers love designing software?
To those who wish to pinch pennies on the backs of teachers: be careful what you wish for because you will get what you pay for.