Palm Beach school employees want something most don’t get from their boss, respect

From the Palm Beach Post News

by Jason Schultz

Some of the Palm Beach County School District’s more than 20,000 employees said tonight they want the next superintendent to respect all employees and recognize their value.

Employees at a forum voiced their frustrations about how the district’s “haves” treat the “have-nots.”

“We need a superintendent who is going to step down from his throne at the ‘Taj Mahal’ and interact with employees,” said Jane Brown, a school bus driver, invoking a common nickname for the school district headquarters on Forest Hill Boulevard.

“We don’t need someone to come and collect a paycheck and live lavishly while the rest of us are hurting,” Brown said.

The four unions that represent most employees sponsored the forum on qualities workers want to see in the next permanent superintendent, whom the school board hopes to choose in March.

Interim superintendents have run the district since Art Johnson left office in February. Bill Malone, Johnson’s replacement, is leaving office early because of health reasons. Wayne Gent is following Malone but will not be allowed to apply for the permanent position.

Board Chairman Frank Barbieri and board members Karen Brill and Marcia Andrews attended this evening’s session.

A steady stream of employees said they didn’t feel like past superintendents cared about all employees and that the next one needs to work with all employees, not just upper management.

“Everybody needs to feel everybody’s plight as a worker,” said Terri Matthews, president of the Association of Educational Secretaries and Office Professionals, which represents the school district’s secretaries.

Several employees expressed frustration over the working conditions, treatment and pay of the lowest-level employees, such as bus drivers and food service workers.

They complained about the high salaries of top district executives and said many employees are living in poverty while working full time.

“The privilege that people have in this building, we don’t have in the schools. We need somebody who will make it even,” said Forest Hill High School teacher Sara Cuaresma. “We need to get rid of all this bureaucracy and all these people who are just justifying their salaries.”

Alex Lopez, a school police officer representing the Police Benevolent Association said he wants a superintendent who “played fair” with unions.

Alphonso Mayfield, president of the Service Employees International Union that represents blue-collar district workers such as drivers, said that usually in a time of budget cuts, too many bosses make cuts from the bottom.

The next superintendent needs to know how to restructure the budget to serve the community without just cutting from the bottom, Mayfield said.

The next superintendent must have at least three years of teaching experience to have any idea how to tell teachers what to do, said Sophia Youngberg, a teacher at Citrus Cove Elementary School in Boynton Beach.

“Why do we allow those who have taught so little to supervise those who have taught so long?” Youngberg said.

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