Florida destroys its covenant with teachers

The hits keep coming for Florida’s teachers.

There used to be a covenant between teachers and society. It
used to be we said to teachers, we can’t pay you that much, certainly not as
much as you deserve but not only will you have our undying admiration and
respect but since there are so many of you and there is power in numbers we
will be able to give you good benefits and then if you spend a lifetime caring
for other people’s children, we will take care of you in your old age.
Now Florida has blown up the covenant and has sadly reneged
on just about every promise. The price of teacher benefits has gone way up,
their pensions are now more expensive and not any better and they are some of
the worst paid in the nation. Also ask a teacher about that respect and
admiration thing too because recently that has been severely lacking.
Then the Florida Supreme Court comes along and puts another
nail in the coffin of the teaching profession. In case you missed it, the other
day they ruled that it was all right for the state of Florida to just take
three percent of teacher’s salaries. There was no negotiating and no quid pro
quo either, teacher’s got nothing in return. Nope, just took it and the Supreme
Court despite hundreds of years of contract law saying that was fine. This is
particularly scary since the Florida Legislature barely contains their distain
for the  profession anyways having also
kneecapped it with their ill conceived and nearly impossible to implement senate
bill 736. How much will the take this year or in the future; five percent, ten
percent? The Supreme Court has given them carte blanche to treat teachers in
any fashion they want.
And for those that complain that public sector pensions are
ruining the economy, remember when they crashed the housing market and sent us
into a banking crisis? Do you remember when teachers got bail outs one year and
awarded themselves bonuses the next? Neither do I but for some reason, teachers
and other public sector workers have born the brunt and blame of the financial
collapse and since our political leaders who haven’t believed in public
education for years started pointing their fingers at the teaching professions,
blaming them for society’s ills we are on the cusp of an education
disaster.  
 People forget that
just five years ago, the state of Florida was recruiting in the business world
and in India and Canada because we couldn’t find enough teachers to fill our
classrooms. The economy went south and people desperate for jobs thought to
themselves, hey I’ll give that a try. But what’s going to happen when the
economy turns around and people have options? Florida has harassed, hindered
and marginalized our teachers to the point where there is a looming disaster. All
it will be is a few veterans who feel they are too far in and a revolving door
of people who think to themselves, hey I’ll give that a try.
And speaking of those people they will be paying three
percent of their salary into a pension fund that most will never benefit from
and that’s because it takes six years to get vested in to the pension. Right
now forty percent of teachers don’t last five years. That three percent of
their salaries gone forever applied to a pension fund that they will never use.
Isn’t that stealing? I mean more stealing.
And speaking of the pension fund, it was not a rickety ship
on the brink of collapse. No it was and is healthy and doing fine, funded well
above most pensions. Say you are thinking to yourself, well the three percent
will just make it all the more healthy. Well you would be wrong to think that
because the three percent stolen from teachers didn’t go to the pension fund.
It went to the general fund to pay help for the rest of the states expenses.
Read that again, the money taken from teachers for pensions did not go to the
pension fund. How is that legal? Friends what happened was the state of Florida
chose to balance its book on the backs of its teachers and other state
employees 
There are two ways to slice what happened and neither is
good for teachers. Either it was a three percent pay cut or a special three
percent tax just to be levied on teachers and other public service workers. You
might be trying to justify it by pointing out things have been tough, well Millionaires
weren’t asked to chip in. Businesses weren’t asked to chip in. Politicians
weren’t asked to chip in either. It was JUST teachers and other public service
workers.   
To put a human face on it with the expiration of the social
security holiday, teachers have taken a five percent pay cut from two years
ago, for me that’s about two thousand dollar. I’ll make it, it’s just me and a
surly cat but what about the single mother of two, or the teacher who has to
take care of an ailing parent or a sick child. That’s real money taken out of
the pockets of your neighbors.
This is especially devastating for Florida’s teachers who
are some of the lowest paid in the nation. Different measurements place us
between 39th and 47th on the pay scale. For me as a 12th
year teacher I am making some 14 thousand dollars below the national average. I
have an idea lets get rid of pensions all together and pay teachers the
national average. I think with an extra 14k a year I should be able to take
care of my own retirement.
When the Florida Supreme Court said it was okay that the
state can change the pension rules for its teachers, not negotiate with mind
you but just change it, the state of Florida said to its teachers you will take
what we give to you and you will like it. This is especially ironic to me since
every public school teacher and I just got a letter from the governor thanking
us for the good job we have done and lauding our importance to the state.
Thanks gov but you know what would be better, me being able to pay my bills and
save for the future.

Florida should change its motto from the sunshine
state to the, we screw our teachers state, why not embrace it; we all already
know it is true. 

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