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Florida Education Association holds Delegate Assembly in Orlando

By Christina Kittle

Orlando, FL – The Florida Education Association (FEA) union held their annual statewide Delegate Assembly in Orlando Florida October 17-19, at the Rosen Convention Centre, with 836 registered delegates from over 100 teacher unions across the state of Florida.

37% of registered delegates were people of color. Duval Teachers United (DTU) and United Teachers of Dade (UTD) were the only counties with an African American and Latin American/Latino majority at the assembly.

The Delegate Assembly is the highest decision-making body for Florida teachers. This year, it introduced a new leadership board as well as a new statewide political campaign for Florida teacher unions. The new leadership board consisted of Fedrick C. Ingram, president; Andrew Spar, vice president, and Carole Gauronskas, secretary-treasurer. Fedrick “Fed” Ingram, an African American music teacher and former president of the United Teachers of Dade union, had an energy that many commented was much needed.

“I almost didn’t come because of our last leadership, but I’m glad I did. This is more the way things should be. We should be talking about how to unite as teachers,” a delegate from Escambia County commented.

“Our last leadership seemed more interested in campaigning for Clinton than for educators. You can’t hold an assembly spending time telling us everything that we already know is wrong with the education system, then further divide us with political campaigns, and then follow up without any solutions where we can unite. How are we supposed to feel about that? Party lines are one thing, but it seemed like our needs as teachers were being ignored,” a Duval County delegate remarked.

The call for Florida unions to come together was not just hyperbolic; it was to announce a political action. The FEA announced the launch of the Florida Fund our Future Campaign. The plan proposes A Decade of Progress, which is a ten-year investment of $22 billion in education funding through 2030, with a down payment from lawmakers in 2020 of $2.4 billion for 10% pay increases for every public school employee across the state of Florida.

This demand comes on the heels of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s proposal to invest $600 million to new hire teacher raises. The governor’s proposal is wildly unpopular as it only specifies new hires, not veteran teachers, no paraprofessionals and no social workers. The $2.4 billion the FEA is demanding would include all public school employees, rookie and veteran educators, including paraprofessionals and also social workers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, librarians, secretaries etc. As it stands right now, Florida is 46th in the nation in teacher pay, more than $12,000 behind the national average.

The first call to action for the Fund Our Future campaign is for educators to meet in Tallahassee on January 13, 2020, the day before the legislative session. While overall, most are pleased to finally see some action, some educators still would like to see things taken a step further.

“We need to strike,” a Broward County educator expressed, plainly. “Our dues have risen, but we know it’s not going towards a strike fund. What do we do if lawmakers continue to ignore our demands? This idea is definitely a push in the right direction, but what’s at stake exactly? What’s stopping lawmakers from ignoring us like they already are?”

The threat of strikes being illegal for teachers has since been shattered by West Virginia and a string of other teacher strikes across the nation. As Florida sinks further towards the bottom in the nation for public education, and as teachers face more and more obstacles daily, the question remains: Will teachers continue to silently leave the profession in the mass exodus we are currently experiencing, or will the unions take the risks involved to organize a credible strike threat?

#OrlandoFL #PeoplesStruggles #FloridaEducationAssociation #TeachersUnions