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Response to The Ledger Editorial

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From the desk of the president

December 17, 2015

The Ledger wrote an editorial regarding the Superintendent's unilateral action on teacher evaluations. I sent them a response that has yet to be printed so I will share it here: 

 

Yes, teachers are extraordinarily upset by the about-face by the Polk County School District on including test scores in teacher evaluations – contrary to our legally binding agreement between the Polk Education Association and the district which is protected under the Florida Constitution. The Ledger’s editorial board may just “respect the sanctity of contracts to a degree,” but Polk’s teachers see it differently and value the constitutional right to bargain.  

 

Your editorial states that the contract should have been renegotiated. We agree. The first time PEA was given any notice that the district planned to renege on its agreement for the 2014-15 scores it made it May was November 12 of this year. There was not even a hint that there was an issue and, by the way, this law was in place when the joint memo was sent to teachers last May. In fact, PEA and the district have met to discuss 2015-16 evaluations teacher evaluations several times. However, that work has been hampered by evaluation committee meetings that have been canceled by the district. You’ve reported on that and PEA has pointed out that refusing to meet means many issues are left unsettled. Teacher evaluations are but one of those issues.

 

The district may find itself in a bind because the Florida Department of Education (DOE) is playing hard ball on evaluations. But it must shoulder its fair share of the blame. Why did they agree in the first place and why did they wait almost six months to alert us to this fateful decision?

 

Your editorial acknowledges some of the many problems with using standardized testing the way it is being misused in the state of Florida. Teacher evaluations are only part of the large testing problem you acknowledge. The test we’re using has plenty of flaws and the ratings used by the state to evaluate teachers based on the test scores have been widely panned. Even the people who created the formula the DOE uses cautioned against rating teachers the way the state does. Unfortunately it is Florida’s teachers who are left holding the bag.

 

As to your contention that the district must follow the law at all costs – even turning its back on a legally binding contract, what about following the law on class size? The Florida Constitution sets strict limits on the number of students in classes at all levels, but that law is routinely (conveniently?) ignored on a daily basis throughout the county and the state of Florida. The loopholes that are used are certainly not what the voters intended.

 

Yes, the district is in a bind. And the way out of the situation isn’t to ignore its contract with Polk teachers. It needs to honor its commitments and then come back to the bargaining table and work through this problem.

Marianne Capoziello  

 

 

November 10, 2015

Dear PEA Members, To the 250+ teachers, paras, and secretaries who came out to tonight’s School Board meeting thank you so much! You did PEA proud tonight! Your presence spoke volumes and your words were eloquent and heart felt. Your passion for your professions and your students rang clear and true. I was SO proud of you all for your courage, persistence, and professionalism. I can also tell you that several parents and even a handful of high school students came to support you as well.

 

To those of you who were unable to come because of tutoring, parent/ report card nights, second jobs, or family responsibilities you were missed but your spirit was there and well represented. We hope you get to see some of the media coverage, several TV stations and print media were there.

 

School Board Members thanked those present and several stated that it caused them to refocus their thoughts. Time will tell but they can certainly not say that they are unaware of the concerns. We have a bargaining date set for Nov. 18th and will also be following up on our evaluation concerns. PEA will keep you informed as we move forward. Please look for our emails.

 

For your knowledge we released the results of the PEA Stress Survey to the School Board and Superintendent tonight and to the Polk County Legislative Delegation yesterday afternoon at their annual meeting. Thank you to the 2703 who took time to take the survey. The results surrounding the increase in stress everybody is feeling and the numbers of teachers who are contemplating leaving the county, state, or education completely are staggering. The survey will be posted on our website tomorrow afternoon along with the press release that accompanied it.

 

I want to say that tonight we took a stand and to let you know that we may need to take several more. We need to stand for our professions, our students, and public education. We cannot shrink away from this important task-- the consequences are too great, our lively-hoods too important, and our students need us too much!

 

In Solidarity, Marianne  

 

November 6, 2015

Dictionary.com defines ‘contract’ as: 1. an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified. 2.an agreement enforceable by law. 3.the written form of such an agreement.

 

Apparently, the District wants to just white out the word. As you may recall in my last message, I was somewhat optimistic but still concerned about the district not bringing a fair offer for a contract settlement.

 

Today I received a letter from the Superintendent, Kathy LeRoy, that she feels that our current evaluation system is in conflict with the state law and that unless she gets special permission from the Florida Legislature on this issue, that she will seek to set aside the evaluation portion of our contract for 2015-2016. This means that the district will simply rewrite the evaluation system to its own liking without ANY input from you at the bargaining table.

 

WE NEED YOU to come the November 10th, school board meeting at 5:00 pm in Bartow at the school board offices, 1915 S. Floral Avenue, Bartow 33830 and let the superintendent and the school board members know that delays and a unilaterally imposed evaluation process are UNACCEPTABLE (defined as NOT pleasing to the receiver; satisfactory; agreeable; or welcome)

 

 Bring your friends, Bring your children, bring your VOICE and let it be heard!  

 

November 5, 2015

Dear PEA Members,

 

I told you that a new offer was to come to our November 3rd bargaining table, but I cautioned you that whether the district would honor its commitment remained to be seen. Now we know the answer, they have not. Instead, at twenty minutes to two on Tuesday afternoon they asked us to counter our own proposal, while offering no additional conversation around money. This district seems to have forgotten that they have to bring a reasonable offer to the bargaining table! They state they have no direction from the school board on this issue! It’s November, the holidays are upon us and they have NO DIRECTION from the Board???!! !

 

I told you that a new offer was to come to our November 3rd bargaining table, but I cautioned you that whether the district would honor its commitment remained to be seen. Now we know the answer, they have not. Instead, at twenty minutes to two on Tuesday afternoon they asked us to counter our own proposal, while offering no additional conversation around money. This district seems to have forgotten that they have to bring a reasonable offer to the bargaining table! They state they have no direction from the school board on this issue! It’s November, the holidays are upon us and they have NO DIRECTION from the Board???!! !

 

Your PEA Bargaining Team is asking you to come and stand with them at the Nov. 10th, 5 pm School Board meeting-- Bring your signs, Bring your Friends and family, and Bring your voice! We know you are busy, we know you are stressed but we need you to come and take a stand for better wages and working conditions!

 

Teacher Evaluations — In our last email we reported to you the cancelation of the last Teacher Evaluation Advisory Comm. (TEAC) sub-committee meeting. That meeting was rescheduled and was held today. Preliminary discussions were held and some progress was made. The group, with the assistance of the NEA, is gathering data. The Nov. 19th TEAC meeting was canceled by the district and has been rescheduled for the 30th of November. The cancelation is troublesome, but a new meeting is on the books. The Teacher Evaluation Committee is now working on a two- pronged approach, what will be put in place for 2015-16 and what will be put in place for 2016-17. Please know that this Association, your bargaining team, and your elected officers have your back and will not settle for anything that does not meet a fair and valid professional standard!

 

I promised to keep you informed as we move forward and to let you know what we need from you. See you next Tuesday, November 10th! More information will follow.

 

In Solidarity,

Marianne

PEA President