Dr. John A. Stewart heard the plight of struggling teachers during his first meeting as Pinellas County's interim school superintendent.
About 50 members of the Pinellas County Teachers Association clad in red shirts turned out at Tuesday night's school board meeting to plead with the board to find a remedy for their dwindling paychecks.
One by one, the teachers came forward and spoke of not receiving raises in the past five years. They also expressed concerns about a state-mandated 3 percent contribution to the Florida Retirement System, a looming increase in health care premiums and impending furlough days.
The teachers shared examples of their hardships, and several in the audience broke into tears when they heard the stories. One teacher told the school board she already had two jobs and would have to take a third to make ends meet if the health care premium increased.
“Do not give us furlough days, and do not raise the current 20 percent employee contribution to our health care,” teacher Sarah Madde said to the board.
Before the school board voted on the new budget, board member Linda Lerner told the speakers, "We're all moved by your personal stories."
The school board then voted to pass the $1.33 billion budget, along with a small increase in the property tax rate. The new rate is 8.3850, which amounts to about a five-cent increase per $1,000 of property value.
During the school board meeting, Stewart also introduced three items that he said were high priority:
- He directed staff to finalize their recommendation for teacher allocations by early October. This task includes balancing class size and ensuring that each teacher has the appropriate number of students.
- He said the school district will roll out a new Data Dashboard to the principals Oct. 6. This tool will be placed on the school district website and will allow parents, teachers and students to access demographic reports, FCAT data, School Improvement Plans, school grades and an assortment of other information. The target date for full implementation is Nov. 4.
- Stewart also noted that the county tax referendum that was originally passed in 2004, and again in 2008, is up for renewal in 2012. The money is used to pay $3,000 of each teacher's salary, and also pays for additional teacher training, special reading programs for students, the purchase of textbooks, technology equipment, and materials for art and music classes.