Editors note: This is the seventh part of ongoing coverage regarding Brevard County school teachers and their fight for better pay and classroom conditions.
BREVARD COUNTY – By 8 a.m. on June 24, hundreds of Brevard County teachers, staff and supporters were lined along the Judge Fran Jamieson Way. Many of those in attendance were chanting, adorned in red attire and waving signs with messages of solidarity and frustration ahead of the scheduled school board meeting at 9 a.m.
The largest rally to date, the Brevard Federation of Teachers organized upwards of a thousand people to attend the rally and the board meeting in the ongoing fight for higher compensation.
"I'm hoping that the board will do the right thing,” said Erica Dilger, Eau Gallie High School teacher. “We do deserve some kind of competitive pay and we're behind other districts in Florida. We just want to make a living wage."
This meeting was the final vote by the school board that would determine which financial route the district would take for the 2019-20 school year.
The overflow of participants were seated in adjacent rooms with television monitors while the meeting was in session.
Dr. Mark Mullins, superintendent of schools and Anthony Colucci, Brevard Federation of Teachers president, along with Angela Dawson, a bargaining specialist for the Florida Education Association, were given 30 minutes to explain their respective proposals. After both presentations were given, the board discussed their reservations about using funds that were nonrecurring to increase wages.
Unfortunately, teachers hoping the board would side with the union's proposal and special magistrate Tom Young's recommendation found themselves disappointed. The vote was 4-1 in favor of the superintendent's proposal presented last week.
The proposal offers a 2.3% recurring raise of $1,100 for "Highly Effective" rated teachers and $825 for teachers rated "Effective", less than half of BFT's proposal.
Matt Susin, BPS district 4 representative, was the only member who voiced agreement with the special magistrate Young's recommendation.
"When we're looking at our teachers and saying that we don't have enough because we want to have reserve funds for upcoming hurricanes, I understand that," Mr. Susin said. "But, I find it hard to believe we don’t have the funds to come up with $2,300."
Mr. Susin expressed concern that although the district would be saving $6M in recurring costs by voting for Dr. Mullins proposal, he feared they would be losing millions in teacher experience by those who would leave the profession.
Mr. Susin also praised Dr. Mullins, who he said has been dedicated to reaching an agreement.
"I applaud Dr. Mullins for everything he's done," Mr. Susin said. "The heart of that man is absolutely pure."
Misty Belford, district 1 member, conveyed apprehension about allocating funds for increased wages for last year, but hoped to make it a priority in this years budget.
"I do feel like we need to do more for our teachers. I think we need to make that a priority moving forward," Mrs. Belford said. "As much as I would, emotionally, like to approve $2,300 for this year, it's simply not something I can do."
Tina Descovich, district 3 member, discussed her view on looking at the bigger picture when it came to the budgetary issues.
"I'm more comfortable with the districts original proposal; not because it doesn't honor teachers, or my children's teachers and the teachers I've had. It's very difficult for me," Mrs. Descovich said. "But we have a job to protect this district."
More than half the teachers abruptly left the meeting before the final vote was decided, many of them shouting protests as they did. One by one, discouraged educators filed out of the board room as the final 4-1 vote was called.
"We're constantly told that we're not putting teachers first," Mrs. Descovich said.
"You're not," several shouted.
Despite the district siding with the superintendent's recommended wage increase, the determination and fight of BPS employees has resonated throughout the community.
"I was honestly disappointed with our CFO and our board, not necessarily with their vote, but with their understanding of our budget," said Jonathan Hilliard, fourth grade teacher at Apollo Elementary.
Mr. Hilliard explained that a lack of preparedness and knowledge of their own budget was discerning and revealing.
"I think if you can take away a win, I think our board got an eye-opener as to what's expected of them and I think our community got an eye-opener as to what to expect from our board," Mr. Hilliard said.
The fight for competitive pay has sent a shock-wave of awareness throughout Brevard County, one that hit the hardest at the June 24 meeting. Moving forward, teachers across the nation continue to strive for not only the betterment of their careers, but the future of their students.
"We might have lost this battle, but I think people are realizing that if we don't prioritize teacher pay, it's going to effect our community," said Mr. Hilliard. "I think our community got woken up."