Archive for February, 2008

Mad As Hell
February 14, 2008

You get the feeling that this is it. The health insurance issue may be the springlock on Pandora’s box.
And it’s open.

In case you’ve missed the reports, the rallies, the emails and the ire, the situation is this: Miami-Dade teachers Just Said No to a rise in health insurance premiums for themselves and their families.

They’ve endured historically low salaries, challenging demographics, kids more interested in sports than civics, and a bureaucracy that measures their worth by a score on a student’s test. And they still show up every morning for the kids.

Late last year, when district administrators realized they hadn’t budgeted for a $36 million hike in health insurance costs, they notified teachers (and thousands of other school workers) that the benefit they and their families count on would cost, in some cases, hundreds of dollars more a month.

Teachers Just Said No.

After months of negotiation, the district consented to split that cost, absorb half the hit. That compromise was still going to cost teachers and their families, though just not as much. That’s the plan that went to a vote last week, and thousands of teachers Just Said No.

Today, dozens showed up to tell the School Board “Hell, no”.

No, because they saw administrators suddenly discover money for under-enrolled schools they considered closing, until parents made a scene.
No, because they see secretaries in the downtown district headquarters earning more money than they do.
No, because the district found several million dollars to spend on a new computer program.
No, because while they’re buying fill-in supplies for their classrooms with their own money, administrators have expense accounts.
No, because the school board voted to spend $40,000 for an awards ceremony at Jungle Island, which is a nice, feel-good event. But $40,000 is a year’s salary for a teacher.

“Keep all the diagnostics, the computers, that fancy stuff… Just give me chalk,” a high school math teacher told me in a phone conversation this week. He has spent his entire award-winning 30-year career in Miami-Dade schools.

No doubt, the funding for the behemoth that is Miami-Dade Public Schools, and all Florida’s schools, is about to shrink some more. Today’s estimate put the next round of losses somewhere between $15 million and $60 million. Those cuts are coming fast, and the decisions where and how to do that will be difficult. Some worthy programming and personnel will almost certainly have to go.

Should any of those cuts and compromises touch the men and women who perform the one, single, essential core mission of public education?

Just Say No.