By Jerry Waxman
At 5:15 PM on March 7 the Orange County Florida CTA president, Mike Cahill opened his hastily put together rally with those words, referring to the Florida Legislature opening session on March 8. Today’s rally was a precursor to a statewide “Awake The State” series of demonstrations taking place that day to protest the Legislature’s and Governor Rick Scott’s draconian budget measures for the next fiscal year. Today’s rally at CTA’s headquarters was strictly about the difficulties that teachers and their unions all over the state will face.
“They told us that this was about the children yet they cut $700.00 per child out of the budget for this year” said Cahill. He added that Florida teachers on average are paid $9000.00 less than the national average. “They’re going the wrong way!” Cahill concluded with a call for everyone to support the Wisconsin unions and 14 senators who are challenging the governor and legislature in that state.
Other speakers included Grace Cabrera who told the crowd “We proved them wrong on SB 6 last year and we must do it again” referring to Governor Crist’s veto of last year’s controversial teacher evaluation bill. Crist vetoed the bill after pressure from both teacher and community groups. Barbara Wright stressed the point that testing is not teaching and that students need caring qualified teachers to help them achieve their maximum potential, and that legislators in Tallahassee are far more responsible for student failures than teachers are. Referring to SB 736, this year’s version of SB 6 Wright said “What they call their staff research is pure propaganda”.
Legislators were challenged by Jennifer Summers to spend one week in a classroom to see what teachers are up against. She surmised that none of them could handle it, yet they want to control what teachers do. Retired teacher Ulysses Floyd wondered if these legislators were paying any attention when they were students in his and other retired teachers’ classes. “What did we do wrong?” he said, referring to their complete lack of understanding of what schools need.
Chris Shirk cited a recent Vanderbilt University study among others that show merit pay for teachers just doesn’t work even when the stakes are as high as $15,000.00 per teacher, yet these studies are disregarded in the legislature. She also cited USDE statistics that show no changes in student gains because of testing, but the legislature pays no attention. CTA VP Diana Moore explained that teacher pensions are actually deferred compensation for work that has already been performed in lieu of salary. Elton Wright brought the crowd to its feet by citing the phrase “more perfect union” from the preamble to the US Constitution, by asking legislators “Why are you trying to tear down this union?”
Tomorrow the CTA will be one of many Central Florida unions that will be demonstrating their solidarity at the Awake the State rally at the Orlando Chamber of Commerce in Senator Beth Johnson Park 59 South Ivanhoe Blvd. The rally begins at 5:30 PM.