At 7 a.m. Monday morning, I’ll be hopping on one of the chartered buses leaving Polk County for “Red for Ed” public education rally in Tallahassee that opens the Legislative Session. I won’t be alone. I am told that roughly 800 Polk teachers have already declared that they are taking Monday off for the rally — or in solidarity.
That’s more than 10 percent of the Polk teaching force. If you extrapolate that to the roughly 180,000 teachers in Florida, we could have 20,000 or more teachers in Tallahassee on Monday for the rally. I am told that district leadership is scrambling in emergency mode to address what amounts to one-day strike. “Strike” is my word, and only as an observation. Teacher “strikes” are illegal; and no one taking the day has said they’re going on “strike.”
But consider the alternative to a faux one-day “strike,” dear public.
The ongoing teacher shortage in Polk County and Florida is a permanent, ongoing lockout engineered by your state government — engineered by Kelli Stargel, Richard Corcoran, Jeb Bush, and all the various instruments of Florida’s terrible failed education approach.
The women and men taking Monday off to fight for their humanity — and that of your kids — could have quit education altogether. Many, many, dedicated educators already have. I would have, if I were one of them. But the women and men rallying in Tallahassee are tougher than me and morally superior to me — and to most people I know. Again, I thank them.
What’s the plan?
In Polk County, no plan for how to manage the scope of the personnel absence has been shared with the School Board or publicly announced.
That disappoints me.
While I fully support the teachers who are taking the day, parents also need to understand what’s happening on Monday so they can plan accordingly and decide what they’re going to do. The thing about “strikes” is that they’re painful for everyone. It’s pain inflicted in the service of creating a more equitable relationship between the people who do the work and the people who own the work — or benefit from it. The pain will be enhanced unnecessarily if it’s a surprise to folks.
And this should not be a surprise to anyone in public education leadership — at any level.
This rally and day has been well known and organized for months. I discussed it publicly at a School Board meeting on November 12, urging us to think, as a district, about what we planned to do. I said at the time: “I don’t know what the policy is on this; but I can tell you, as a board member, whatever we have to do, up to shutting down for the day, to allow our people to fight for the existence of public education, to fight for the humanity of education, I fully support.”
I still do. You can see the full clip below, starting at 1:02:45.
887 to 887: a historic rejection
The clip above starts with my recognition of the collective bargaining agreement that negotiators for teachers and the Polk district reached back in November. I always welcome negotiated agreements. I will vote for any deal that is negotiated by union and district leaders and ratified by union rank-and-file. That is the key to constructive relations between labor and management. And I was fully prepared to vote for this deal as well, bad as may have been because of Tallahassee funding and insurance costs.
But on Dec. 17, the teacher union rank-and-file, for the first time that I’m aware of, rejected the deal in a remarkable tie vote: 887-887. This vote happened after public education hater Kate Wallace and her organization paid for the superintendent to attend anti-teacher, anti-public school political conference in San Diego. I can’t help but think that if the superintendent had not made that mistake that she might have gotten one additional ratification vote in her favor. Mistakes have consequences.
In any event, rejecting the deal won’t create new money. We have $10 million in compensation money to split up between salaries and health insurance. I will defer to on-the-ground negotiators on how to split it up. But it’s my understanding that there may be some gains for teachers to make on contract language. And if that’s true, then flexing ratification muscle to enhance bargaining position just provided an object lesson to everyone in how power works.
No equity or humanity or better work conditions without power
And the state of the teaching profession is entirely a question of power: the people who want to destroy public education and hate Florida teachers enough to impoverish and punish them during a supposedly booming economy have had more power than teachers for 20 years.
My personal political project has been to convince educators of all kinds — and particularly teachers — that they are politically, socially, and economically powerful if they choose to be. And if they take some brave risks that only they can take to demonstrate it.
That’s why I fully support the Red Monday rally — and why I look forward to ratifying a contract with teachers that does more to improve their work lives. And as a public school parent, board member, and taxpayer, I’m more than willing to endure a little pain on both accounts.