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Tampa Bay teachers share horrendous working conditions, demand their contract is ratified

By Joseph Nohava

Hillsborough County teachers pack the school board meeting, September 20.

Tampa, FL – Members of the Hillsborough County teachers union packed the school board meeting, September 20, to demand a better contract that takes teachers' needs for a livable salary into account. A sea of the union's red shirts confronted the board members and the county's superintendent, who with faux concern, offered nothing but the platitude that he “heard” teachers’ concerns.

The crisis could not have been clearer to anyone with eyes and ears, as union members shared stories not just of having to work second jobs for pennies, but unsafe conditions for students. One teacher said that because of understaffing due to a lack of funding, students were left without school counselors, wandering the campus, vaping in bathrooms, fighting and wandering off campus. Teachers emphasized to the school board that it was impossible to be pro-student and anti-teacher. School officials even suggested a plan to train high school students in technical repair and assign them to repair district computers and electronics, owing to a lack of adequate staff.

Eager to pretend that the crisis is over, public officials promulgated a story in the local press claiming the school staffing crisis was over. Several teachers referenced this absurd bald-faced lie, and how outrageous it is to ask teachers to disbelieve their own experiences working at severely understaffed schools.

Teacher’s demands are reasonable, with the same costs as district proposal. Teachers need a competitive wage that precludes them from having to work two or more jobs, sometimes working 21 or more hours additionally; adequate staffing that allows students to be monitored and kept safe; and working conditions that allow for learning, with often classrooms of 40-plus students and in sweltering temperatures over 90 degrees F in classrooms at times.

All this occurs in the backdrop of Florida siphoning over $1 billion this coming fiscal year from public education toward private school vouchers. Dismantling public education has long been a project of reactionaries in government like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who would like an educational system that is not unionized, and which allows greater latitude to discriminate and for racist, homophobic curricula.

The increase in private school vouchers has outpaced increases in public school funding, and the aid comes directly from state and local aid to schools, meaning that districts are more reliant on local funding, contributing to the crisis.

Residents of Tampa Bay have already been fighting for rent controls and housing aid, a people’s budget that prioritizes people not profit, but, much like Tampa city council, school officials and the school board are all too ready to throw up their hands and claim that there’s nothing they can do to adequately fund the needs of those they supposedly serve.

Teachers deserve their contract proposals met, better conditions, and respect for their years of service. With the deterioration of conditions in the school system and no sign of a slowdown in the explosion of rent costs, the need for a united front that challenges the status quo has never been clearer.

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