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 February 2019

Solidarity Report No. 66

There are no weak unions, only weak people

One of the most absurd reasons for not joining PCTA comes from people who say that our union is weak because we do not have the right to strike. Apparently, they feel that a strike is the sole measure of the union strength. This argument comes from people who are weak themselves and shy away from any activity that would put them in jeopardy. It comes from those who weaken the union by not joining and then shout with delight when the union comes up short in a grievance, negotiation or a court case. In moments like that, they can proudly justify their decision to not join and let others do all the work. There are no weak unions, only weak people. Florida has the most draconian penalties, of all the states in country, for teachers who go on strike. Teachers that go on strike in Florida could face loss of contract status or be placed on special conditions for reemployment. At worst, they could be terminated and lose all of their retirement benefits. A union instigating such a strike is subject to decertification which would then nullify the contract that is in place since they would no longer be the sole bargaining agent. Still, there is nothing illegal about it. If teachers wanted to strike, they could, and if 100% of the teachers walked, they would have a heck of a shot at winning their demands. There are no weak unions, only weak people. No. 66 In this Issue: There are no weak unions, only weak people – Tentative Agreement passes Ratification – Fund Our Future – Tax Info Before we get too excited about a strike ending in victory, lets get real. Only 54% of our teachers belong to PCTA. If every PCTA member walked out tomorrow, the District would still have over 3,000 teachers show up for work. Are we supposed to assume that the non-members, who have alluded joining us, would suddenly stand shoulder to shoulder with us and walk out? Even if I wanted to strike, it is hard enough just to get everyone to wear a red shirt or attend a School Board Meeting. I could never ask them to walk out on strike and risk their livelihoods and pensions. Sorry, I never claimed to be Jimmy Hoffa. PCTA is not a weak Union because we won’t call for a strike. It would be irresponsible for us to put our members in harm’s way unless we were certain that an overwhelming majority of educators would follow suit. That of course is simply too unrealistic an expectation. There are no weak unions, only weak people. The kryptonite that weakens us is not that we care for our members’ safety and well-being, it’s the many critics and blowhards who scare timid bystanders from joining us. We have all heard them as they work to undermine and weaken us so that they can complain all the louder if we are unable to make change happen on their timetable. They are great at telling everyone what we should have done or what they would have done, but in reality they do nothing and contribute nothing but weak criticism. Those bystanders should know that they do not have to be meek and timid. They can choose to add their voices to PCTA and their voices would become roars. A Unions strength is in its numbers. There are no weak unions, only weak people. So, let’s define what we mean by “weak”:  Critics who point out where othersfall short but they themselves remain safe doing nothing.  Those that join alternative unions that promise legal services but have no interest in your contract because they were formed by organizations that plot to decertify unions and eradicate contracts altogether. (just how effective is an attorney in a right to work state if there is no contract in place?)  Those who claim to be professionals but are too afraid to demand they be treated as professionals. There is a cure for weak, and that cure is joining PCTA and having the strength of 4,000 members in Pinellas, 145,000 in Florida, and 5,000,000 in the country. Strong educators stand up for themselves and for those unable to. Strong educators fearlessly advocate for their students, their profession and for Public Education. We may not choose to strike in Florida, but that does not make our Union weak. We have always been stronger than we think, and educators should know that this is the time to join and be strong. We have a short window of opportunity right now because even if we have not called for a strike, there is a “Silent Strike” going on right now in Florida. Every single day, teachers walk off the job and will never come back. They have reached that point where they must choose between their physical health and continuing to teach. They have reached the point where their mental health requires them to leave the profession. They have reached the point where the demands of work are stealing from time spent with family, and so they walk. This “silent strike” is not going to last forever but it presents an opportunity for the strong educators to take back their profession. There are no weak unions, only weak people. If everyone joined PCTA, there would be no weak people, only strong professional educators making up a strong Union.

Tentative Agreement Passes Ratification

On Tuesday, February 5th, the bargaining unit voted to ratify the Tentative Agreement signed on January 19, 2019 between the Pinellas County School Board and the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. The employees voted overwhelmingly in support of the agreement. The tentative agreement passed with 95% of the votes cast in favor of ratification. I would like to commend the bargaining team for a job well done. It is my hope that the new contract changes will alleviate some of the stress that educators have been subjected to. There is still, however, much more to be done if we are to take back our profession and bring the joy of teaching back to the classroom. To accomplish what must be done here in Pinellas as well as at the state level, requires a concerted and unified effort. In short, solidarity can save public education. I have preached this same gospel for going on five years now and while we have filled the cup of solidarity to the half way mark, we still have a long way to go. Let’s take this ratification vote for example. The results of the ratification vote should send the District the message that educators approve of the changes we fought for, it will not pass their notice however, that half the bargaining unit did not bother to vote. What message does that send to the District who will be sitting across from us at the bargaining table once again six months from now?

Fund Our Future

Dear Leaders and Staff:
The FEA Officers asked that I forward an important update on a school safety measure being discussed in Tallahassee. A proposed bill to allow armed teachers in our public schools has been introduced in the Florida Senate during National School Counseling Week. The Florida Education Association (FEA) does not support more firearms inside classrooms. Increasing counseling services, however, is at the top of our list for improving the safety of our students and schools. To make our schools safer, we should:  Prioritize preventative services, such as comprehensive mental health services  Return guidance counselors to their proper roles as resources for students, rather than deploying them as test facilitators and administrators  Increase the number of guidance counselors in our schools  Ensure law enforcement personnel are properly trained and understand their duties  Ensure that local agencies can communicate effectively  Make buildings and campuses less open to threats, as through hardening schools We will be advocating for the simple idea that teachers want to teach and we are asking legislators to focus on that goal. We need to fund our future — fund our neighborhood public schools, fund security for our schools and fund opportunity for all students. You can read the full text of the bill here: SB 7030 - relating to school safety and security The bill language: Deletes the prohibition against classroom teachers to serve as guardians under in Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program. Requires county sheriffs to establish a Guardian program if their local school boards vote to implement one even if the sheriff did not want to participate. Requires Commissioner Corcoran and the State Board to monitor districts' compliance with required safety and security actions and identify noncompliance. Calls for a committee to review and prioritize school hardening and safety initiatives. Calls for the creations of a statewide behavior threat assessment instrument and database. The Senate education committee is to discuss the new bill next Tuesday Feb. 12.
Kevin W. Watson
Director, Public Policy Advocacy
213 S. Adams Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301

Educator Tax Deductions

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Solidarity Report No. 65

Faculty Rep Council Meets to Discuss T/A

The PCTA Faculty Rep Council will meet this Thursday to discuss the tentative agreement that will be sent for a ratification vote to the bargaining unit on February 5th. The Council will decide, whether or not, to recommend ratification to the bargaining unit. The faculty reps attending with pick up their voting packages to take back to their schools and those who were unable to attend will receive them in the PONY. All members of the bargaining unit are eligible to vote, members and non-members. Everyone who votes will sign the voter list provided by the school rep and the school signature list must match the number of ballots cast in order for the school’s ballots to be counted. If ratified, the School Board will have the opportunity to approve the Tentative Agreement on the February 12 School Board agenda. Should the Agreement fail to be ratified, the bargaining teams would be required to go back to the bargaining table. Every member of the Bargaining Unit will have access to the redlined version of the tentative agreement so that they can see the negotiated contract language changes well before the ratification vote to enable everyone to cast an informed vote. No. 65 In this Issue: Faculty Rep Council Meets to Discuss T/A, Dealing with the Teacher Shortage, MLK Day Parade, Tax Shelter America

Dealing with the Teacher Shortage

So, now it is official. The teacher shortage that we have been warning Tallahassee about for the past three years, is now an accepted reality among lawmakers. The exodus of teachers from the profession and the lack of interest among college students to enter the profession, is largely due to the unwillingness of the Legislature to listen to the voice of educators. Some lawmakers tend to do what they think is best for education, based on their personal experience as a student. Well, I have been to a doctor’s office but I would not profess to know what is best for the medical profession based on my experience. Other law-makers base their views of education on what privatizers, who help them get elected, would like to see happen to public education. Either way, the people that serve students in the classrooms of Florida are not among the consulted. Now that the teacher shortage has reached a critical point, how will our Governor and our Legislature address this issue? Based on past performance, using a method similar to how VAM is used to predict how much of a learning gain a child should make in each teacher’s class, I would make the following predictions. In recent years, legislation that has been crafted to attract educators; performance pay, Best & Brightest bonuses, and A-plus money has actually harmed the teaching profession. The true intent of these laws is to divide and conquer the teaching profession, pitting educators against each other as they compete for bonus money. Teaching is the most collaborative, caring and loving profession there is and teamwork is essential to success so, competitive business practices have no place in this industry. After all, we do not manufacture widgets in a factory, we prepare children to become well rounded, civic minded Americans. Of course, behind these state sponsored bonus programs is a hidden benefit for those who would like to set public education up to fail. By giving bonuses, as opposed to wage increases, they are able to by-pass teacher unions that would have been entitled to collectively bargain these funds on behalf of all teachers. It is a good way to keep teacher pay low while providing Districts with less operating funds for negotiations with employee unions. Aside from the crazy bonus schemes, I fear the Legislature may try to enlist more teachers by lowering the requirements to teach. This will water down our profession and falls clearly in line with the charter movement, many of which do not require the same credentials public school teachers must have. Teachers across the state are already being asked to teach out-of-field. I fear that could become an accepted practice. I would also predict that the class size amendment will undergo further revisions. Packing more students into classes would make the shortage look less severe but none of these ill-conceived remedies that I suspect the state may undertake, will benefit our students or ease the crisis. It is easy to criticize but I believe criticism should be accompanied by suggested solutions. If the lawmakers of Florida really are interested in attracting educators and in having a top notch education system, they must revisit and reverse legislation that has caused the present situation. All employees deserve to have at least the semblance of job security. If you are doing a good job, you should expect to have continued employment. Of course, there will be times when an employee needs to be let go, be it for discipline, reduction in force, or other non-discriminatory reasons. However, no employee should ever be denied “just cause” or “due process”. Denying an employee their right to provide for their family without looking them in the eyes and telling them why, is an act of cowardice. These are things our legal system allows prisoners to have yet, our state denies to teachers. Since denying “just cause” for non-renewal of teacher contracts was enacted, the rate of teachers entering the profession has declined and the fear among annual contract teachers of losing their source of income has grown at an alarming pace. A second recommendation would be to fund public education at the national average. That would not only raise teacher pay but provide the resources to bring the joy of learning back to our classrooms. One final recommendation is to “Just Let Us Teach”. Enough with all the unfunded mandates and toxic testing. Allow professional educators to do what they do best and allow them to be free of any fears that prevent them from requesting assistance from an administrator when they need it. Teaching occurs between a teacher and students, everyone else is supporting cast. Why should a teacher have to worry about asking an administrator for assistance, resources or advice? Yes, administrators evaluate teachers, but that should be the least important aspect of their job, especially when compared to ensuring every teacher has what they need to succeed in a classroom. I do not expect our Legislators to be experts in Education, but I do expect them to consult with professional educators, School Board members and Superintendents who are charged with educating our country’s most precious resource, our kids.

2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade

I would like to thank all the PCTA-PESPA members who marched together in the parade. It is always a plus for union members to demonstrate their solidarity in public. The folks who lined up on both sides of the 1½ mile parade route applauded our group and yelled praises to the educators who serve their kids. It was colder than we are used to but the sun was shining and the smiles on the young children and the appreciation of the community were shining on us as well. Members brought their children to march with us and I could not help admire that decision. This event is a family event enjoyed by all and a teachable moment for our children as well. What better way to honor an American Hero whose message of peace and justice is as necessary today as it was during his lifetime.