Wednesday, November 30

Florida All Set to Take Down Teachers Unions

I was a teacher in Wisconsin when the state, under Scott Walker, took on the teachers unions. The unions lost, and I was eventually laid off without cause. Plenty of other teachers were laid off, but even more we're simply told to do more with less. By the end, I had very little love left for my union or my job, wishing I had the thousands of dollars I'd paid back. Like Florida, Wisconsin was a purple state with a bright red governor. Like Walker, Desantis has stuck his nose in education, and he probably believes a big win against unions would cement his place in the White House. 

De Santis has recently backed school board candidates across the state, replaced Democrat-leaning school board members, mandated a civics curriculum to be taught, promoted barely-educated military personnel to become licensed teachers, and asked schools to burn books while avoiding the discussion of woke topics. That's a lot more intrusive than Scott Walker ever got in Wisconsin, yet Walker was able to bring the biggest union in the state to its knees. I figured Crist's choice in running mate (teachers union boss) might sway Desantis to attack the teacher unions, but since the Democrats didn't mount a real campaign against him, I guess there was no point in spooking teachers.  

But now might be the right time. St. Johns County teachers just voted down a pay raise for the first time, and that's probably not the only union in the state complaining. If county budgets are suffering, onw way to ease the pain is to eliminate collective bargaining. School districts want to pay new teachers more and old teachers less, but pay schedules don't allow it. With no unions and voided contracts, schools can change to fewer total pay lanes while saving tons of money in health insurance and pension benefits-- my district no longer paid my retirement contribution for me and bought high-deductible insurance for our group, while also freezing my pay to the new lane, essentially cutting most total compensation packages by roughly $10,000 per year without it looking like my pay went down to outsiders. Those outsiders were already paying their own retirements and had worse insurance, so it was acceptable to them. Of course, the lack of a union meant class sizes could increase and schedules could change (going from five classes to six), thus requiring fewer teachers. I got caught as a mid-career teacher who didn't have extra certifications but was still heading for the next pay increase. 

But think about the numbers. $10,000 less per teacher per year and about 30 fewer teachers (out of around 200) because of new schedules, along with the ability to fire teachers who might someday cash in on retirement benefits. My medium-sized district could save around $2,000,000 on salary and benefits and then another $1,500,000 on non-renewal of contracts. Probably another $1,000,000 (probably way more) down the road by hiring all new teachers who may or may not put in 30 years with the district. On the other side, teachers were told we no longer had to pay money in union dues, which obviously didn't make up for the losses, but I guess was something.

When I got to Jacksonville and eventually started teaching, I told a union rep about what happened in Wisconsin and my reluctance to join the union. She had never heard about Wisconsin and seemed confident no such situation could possibly occur in Florida, but she's so wrong. If King Ron wants to come for public school unions, he will. Didn't any teachers or unions question why the governor was weighing in on school board elections? Sure, it might just be about indoctrination and control for parents, but the next logical step is going after those who don't agree.

Several school boards have already severed ties with superintendents viewed as too liberal for mandating masks. Another school board member posted to social media asking for parents to rat-out teachers who show movies before breaks. It's not a very far leap to start looking at teacher total compensation packages and whether a change could save money to build more football stadiums. The power structure in Wisconsin needed to vilify teachers as greedy and lazy in order get the general population behind dismantling the union, and it wasn't all that difficult. Old wives tales like, "If you can't do, teach," were all the rage, along with publicly posting salaries. Anti-teacher pundits focused on summers off and the union protection of obviously bad teachers. Soon, we were all lazy, greedy, criminal, dangerous, and naive (for being in unions). We were the cause of budget shortfalls and high taxes, and because our jobs were so easy, anyone could replace us. 

While Scott Walker believed dismantling the unions would thrust him into the White House as the ultimate fiscally-conservative candidate, Desantis might just see it as the final feather in his cap. Or, if the teachers are lucky, he'll see it as an unnecessary fight because he's already got enough power to force teachers and school districts to behave. More than likely, the teachers unions in Florida will behave like the Democratic party of the state and just give up (while still collecting dues). And the state will slowly chip away at union power and public opinion until it needs the money from destroying the union. At 160,000+ teachers in our state, if budgets could save $10,000 a year on each individual, that's $1.6 billion a year in savings. Luckily for teachers, our state finances are currently doing ok, so maybe ignoring it will make it go away. That was often my technique for student misbehavior, and once in a while it even worked.

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