Teachers, support staff ask for higher pay, cleaner schools, less testing
BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Filthy classrooms, no soap or toilet tissue in bathrooms, roaches on the windowsills, long hours and that pesky pay issue were among the concerns brought by teachers to Tuesday’s meeting of the Volusia County School Board.
Monitoring the entrance and exit for fire code standards, the packed-to-capacity room spilled over outside with an estimated 500 teachers and supporters gathered.
“What’s with 1 percent? We give a hundred percent!” educators chanted outside.
Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, provided the Daytona Times with the results of a survey recently given to Volusia County public school teachers.
One question, “Do you feel valued by our district and school board?” was answered by 1,600 respondents. Thirty respondents, or less than 2 percent, answered yes; 299 respondents answered sort of, and the remainder 1,237 said no.
Asked if the teachers are doing custodial work in their classroom/office, nearly 83 percent or 1,310 respondents said yes and 256 said no.
Spar also provided several emails from area teachers complaining about paper towels being out in the bathrooms and computer labs being inaccessible.
“It’s not good for kids to come into a class that is infested with bugs and aren’t clean,” Spar told the board.
“It’s not good for kids when teachers and support staff in this district work 6 to 6 go home, have dinner, work until 10 to 12 that night and do it again the next day.”
“The top prescriptions in the district are anti-anxiety drugs,” he added. “These are real issues that we are dealing with.”
Complaints against Aramark
The school board decided in 2013 to outsource custodial services to Aramark Services, reducing the county’s expenses by about $6 million annually. Emails, photos and those speaking to the board tried to indicate that Aramark is not holding up its end of the contract.
Ida Wright, vice chair of the school board, spoke with the Daytona Times during one of the two breaks taken during the Tuesday night meeting. She assured that the schools would be cleaned.
“The board is moving forward and enacting their rights that if something happens with Aramark, if they don’t fulfill their contract then we go out and have a company to clean the schools, get it to where we need and we charge them for it,” she asserted. No vote is necessary for this to happen.
“This is in our contract (with Aramark Services),” she added. “So now they are responsible for just paying us back to get the schools clean and back up to date.”
‘Board of opportunity’
April Martin, an Orange City teacher who addressed the board while choking through tears said, “We have heard this will be the board of opportunity. I need my kids to be a priority and they’re not and we’re not.”
Christine Allen, another teacher addressed the board, saying that “I would like to speak about the materials in my classroom or lack thereof. I have spent $2,000 on my own classroom this year. My job is more difficult now than in my 30 years of teaching. I felt spat upon with an offer of 1 percent. On a positive note, I don’t quit. I tell my students I won’t quit on you so don’t you quit on me.”
Allen also explained to the board that teachers are not privy to textbooks that prepare students for tests.
Other teachers shared those same sentiments with comments ranging from textbooks not covering information on standardized tests to scouring the Internet as an added tool, to giving students mass amounts of information with the hope of teaching something that is actually on the test.
‘We want it now’
“We want more pay and we want it now,” a teacher at Starke Elementary in DeLand, who asked her name not be revealed, told the Times.
The last proposal from the district was a 1 percent one-time bonus for teachers and a 2 percent one-time bonus for support staff. The proposal was rejected by all three represented unions: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Volusia Teachers Organization (VTO) and the Volusia Educational Support Association (VESA). “We are here for fair pay, professionalism, clean schools and we want our kids to not just be seen as data. Also the testing is awful. Everything is data driven with our kids. Testing this, testing that. So when do we have time for teaching? When do we have time for planning?” the Starke Elementary teacher continued.
“We’re constantly in meetings and when we’re in the meetings, it’s about testing the kids,” she added.
“We don’t have time to meet with our team. Our kids are not data. We are treated as the lowest of the low on the totem pole. They need to listen to us. Don’t be on that panel and say, ‘oh, this will work.’
“You haven’t been in that classroom. Many of those on the board have never been a teacher. I personally don’t even think they care. Everything is all good on black and white, but when it comes to implementation, it’s a disconnect.”
The district and unions return to the bargaining table on Feb. 18.
Trust ranks low
The current school board is relatively new. The most senior member has been on the board for just over two years . And at the last board meeting, Jan. 27, Dr. Margaret Smith, the then-Volusia County School Superintendent of 12 years, resigned.
Kim Short, another teacher, told the board, “Newsflash: The people in Volusia County don’t trust the district. How can you change the public’s perception?”
Dr. John Hill, a DeLand physician and school board member, compared the board to a doctor’s practice.
‘It’s up to the board to listen to them,” Hill said after the public comment period ended, adding the board will need time to ‘diagnose the problem.’
“I often have patients come to me and I prescribe a treatment,” he added. “We have been told by our patients that being teachers, that being the community, what’s wrong. Tonight I am challenging myself to listen to these people and I challenge the rest of my board to do the same.”
“Challenge accepted, Dr. Hill,” Linda Costello, chair replied after three hours of meeting, two breaks and about two-dozen public comments from residents.