school-choice3

Let’s take the average middle-class American family with two working parents and three school aged children who cross the intelligence spectrum and plop them in the center of an urban district that markets itself as a “choice district” and see if school choice lives up to its promises.

Child Number One

Child number one is the model student who has excelled in the public school system their entire lives. They tested into their neighborhood K-8 center’s gifted program in kindergarten and received the best teachers surrounded by only their brightest peers and most motivated families. They moved in an isolated bubble around their school and rarely had contact with the general population. They were accepted into a prestigious magnet program on a wealthy island across the bay where they get the best teachers, most advanced course work, and daily kayaking excursions. They may have to wake up at 5 am and sit in the dark on a city street waiting for their hour long bus journey in order to get to their prestigious school, but it’s worth it considering their zoned high school has been rated a D school five years in a row and has eliminated all arts classes because of lack of funding due to low enrollment. Recently, the wealthy island residents have demanded a greater allotment of seats at the magnet school and diversity has plummeted. Some students have reported racist comments and bullying, but the students really don’t have any other choice if they want a quality education.

Child Number Two

Child number two is well-behaved and intelligent but a bit of an introvert and has never been recommended for gifted testing by any teacher. They have always been in the “regular” classes at their C rated K-8 center and have never been particularly challenged. Even though the parents live in a middle to upperclass neighborhood, most of the well off parents have fled the neighborhood public school and choose to send their children to local private schools, district magnet schools, or charter schools. This has left a once proud building crumbling, with broken playground equipment with no shade, a weed strewn field and people who don’t know any better think the school has been abandoned. In order to fill empty seats, the district buses in children from surrounding poor neighborhoods and now the school surrounded by million dollar homes receives Title 1 funding due to high poverty rates. The middle class parents attempted to take advantage of a choice law in their state that would allow students to attend any public school in the state provided the school was not at capacity. The parents tried to apply to surrounding A rated public schools only to be denied because those schools were already at 113% capacity. They thought about using a fake address like some of their neighbors, but the A rated schools recently hired a private detective to verify parents’ primary residences and students with fake addresses have recently been kicked out of the school. Faced with no other choice, the middle class parents who have always supported traditional public schools, applied to five charter schools and were lucky enough to win the lottery to one of the schools. The only problem is that it’s ten miles away in the opposite direction of their commute. They plan on having child number two take Uber to their new charter school.  The Uber fees add up to $200 a month but it’s still cheaper than a private school! Even though they think charter schools are a scam and siphon money from traditional public schools, they have no other choice because they don’t want their child sitting in a “regular” classroom with 40 other kids, many of whom don’t speak any English, and some of whom have already started vaping in the back of the classroom.

Child Number Three

Child number three was diagnosed with a learning disability at the age of 4 and has an IEP. Not wanting to subject their child to a lifetime of being in the “dumb” class and remedial reading and math classes, the traditional public school loving parents have decided to take advantage of a state scholarship voucher that pays for a portion of a private school education for their special education child. They know their child will not actually receive any special education services at the school and will have teachers who aren’t trained in special education techniques or even certified, but they fear their child may not pass the state exams and drop out of school. One parent has had to take on a second job because the state voucher only covers a third of the tuition. The only private school that would take the state voucher was located twenty miles from their home. It happens to be a religious school, and they don’t even practice that religion, but it’s their only choice.

After enduring years of struggling to send their three children to three different choice schools, tired of their kids not having any neighborhood friends because none of the children attend the same schools, tired of having to drive twenty miles any time one  of their kids has a birthday party, play date, or sleepover to attend, the parents decide to move to another school district that does not support school choice and instead supports traditional neighborhood community schools.

This dystopian school choice nightmare is the sad reality for many middle class parents living in “choice districts.” The cycle further worsens as more parents move out of the district while more charter schools move in. Choice districts find themselves with stagnant or declining student enrollment while the number of school choice options continue to increase. Parents abandon their local public school for a variety of choice options (magnet, charters, vouchers…) leaving their neighborhood school starved for funds.

This data taken from a choice district’s website shows that even though student enrollment has dropped in a 20 year time period, the number of schools has increased by 118 schools.

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That’s 118 more highly paid administrators, expensive facilities to maintain, janitorial, cafeteria and office staff for the same number of students. Not to mention the extra money schools must now spend on marketing themselves in order to survive in a choice district.

As one recent Forbes article about charter schools increasing the cost of education stated,

“When was the last time you heard of a business of any sort saying, “The money is getting tight, and we need to tighten our belts. So let’s open up some new facilities.”

Despite the apparent logic of not opening up new facilities when funding is low, the school district with declining enrollment and burgeoning number of schools cited above, recently approved 5 new charter schools.

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This blog post is being written for the purpose of documenting a recent event which revealed the bizarre relationship between the United Teachers of Dade and the Miami Herald in a school district obsessed with PR and controlling the narrative of all things education in Miami Dade County. It is a story about how too much reliance on PR and an overly close relationship with the local press can turn a minor incident into a tragic farce.

It began last week when a now retired Social Studies teacher visited the offices of the United Teachers of Dade and was brought to tears upon seeing the tattered state of the American Flag. The teacher was so dismayed they wrote the following Letter to the Editor that was published in the Miami Herald.

On Sept. 11, I was sitting in the waiting area of the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) to get some advice on retirement. I’ve been a social studies teacher for about 30 years.But before that, I was a U.S. Army Infantry captain.

The building where the UTD has its offices is flying the national and state flags. It brought tears to my eyes to see the once proud colors tattered, fading and totally disrespected.

I asked the staff member at my appointment — and being from a military family himself — he said he’d get right on that.

But for businesses and municipalities that fly the American flag to show respect, and then just forget to pay attention to caring for the flag, well, in terms of care… why bother?

If you’re going to fly the flag, do it, do it right.”

You can read the Letter to the Editor in its entirety here

Neither the school district nor the local teachers’ union are ones to let a negative story be published in the local media without a swift rebuttal and denial of guilt.

The very next day in the Opinion section of the Miami Herald, a piece entitled, “UTD Not to Blame for Flying Tattered U.S. Flag” was published. In all fairness, UTD is really not to blame for a tattered American flag if they are only tenants in the building. Nonetheless, Kafkateach couldn’t help but find humor in the title because any teacher who has worked in Miami Dade County Public Schools for any length of time knows that UTD is never to blame for anything and their tag line has jokingly become known as: “Blame Tallahassee.”

For example:

Question: Why am I only getting a 2% raise if inflation was 3%?

UTD: Blame Tallahassee.

Question: Why are mid-career teachers making less money given their years of experience in 2018 than they did in the year 2000?

UTD: Blame Tallahassee.

Question: Why did I get involuntarily kicked off the grandfathered step schedule when SB 736 clearly stated I had the right to remain on the 2014 step schedule?

UTD: Blame Tallahassee.

Question: Why are Miami teachers the worst paid out of any major city in the United States?

UTD: Blame Tallahassee.

Anyway, I think you get the point.

Kafkateach posted the article in a disgruntled teacher group knowing they would see the humor in the article’s title but the situation soon escalated to the point of the absurd.

Having an analytical mind, I wondered why David Duckenfield, the President of Balsera Communications, would care enough about a letter to the editor regarding a tattered flag outside of UTD’s office, to write an Opinion piece defending UTD?

Over the years, I’ve developed friendships with fellow Internet sleuths and a social media detective sent me a picture of the following twitter post. (Notice the post only has one heart and one retweet even though there are four people in the picture. You would think a PR company could get at least a few more hearts and retweets).

duck utd

FULL DISCLOSURE: THIS PHOTO WAS NOT FOUND BY KAFKATEACH

Then the plot began to thicken. UTD has a private PR company and they wrote the letter on UTD’s behalf and failed to FULLY DISCLOSE that they were UTD’s PR company.  This letter meant to make UTD look good, only ended up making it look worse along with the PR company and the Miami Herald.

You can read the original Miami Herald Opinion piece written by David Duckenfield of Balsera Communications here

FULL DISCLOSURE: YOU CAN READ THE ORIGINAL OPINION PIECE AUTHORED BY DUCKENFIELD ONLY BECAUSE ANOTHER INTERNET SLEUTH WHO IS MORE TECHNOLOGICALLY GIFTED THAN KAFKATEACH WAS ABLE TO RECOVER IT THROUGH A WEB ARCHIVE SEARCH.

Now that the relationship between Balsera Communications and the United Teachers of Dade had been revealed, it was time for Kafkateach to dig a bit deeper.

After a two minute Google search, Kafkteach found an article linking the founder of Balsera Communications to an Argentinian money laundering scandal

In all fairness, any prominent figure in Miami has probably been linked to a South American money laundering scandal at some point in their career. It’s like playing Six Degrees of Separation. Having ties to a South American money laundering scandal is so common in the 305, it’s almost become a form of street cred.

Money laundering issues aside, Freddy Balsera, a Democratic lobbyist for Hillary Clinton also came under fire for supporting a Republican candidate (who was also a former Miami Dade County School Board member). https://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/feud-in-florida-over-hillary-clinton-consultant-120915

There’s no sin in supporting a friend’s candidacy even if it goes against your political affiliation. Supporting Curbelo wasn’t the only evidence of Balsera’s political fluidity.

baltrump

To be fair, Balsera’s Fan Boy Twitter post with President Trump would be expected of anyone in the PR business. Love him or hate him, President Trump is a true master of PR.

Now it’s time for the magic trick. A few days later it was drawn to Kafkateach’s attention, that the authorship of the “UTD is Not to Blame” Opinion Piece had been changed to Karla Mats, the President of the United Teachers of Dade. I clicked on the link to my original post, and sure enough, David Duckenfield was no longer the author. Had my eyes deceived me? Was it all a dream? Had Karla written the letter in defense of UTD like she should have done originally all along? No, and thanks to my fellow Internet detective, I had proof that I’m not a conspiracy nut.

UTD flag

FULL DISCLOSURE: KAFKTEACH DOES NOT TAKE ANY CREDIT FOR PUTTING TOGETHER THE ABOVE IMAGE

So who’s decision was it to change the authorship of the letter? Did Karla Mats decide she wanted to take the opportunity to show true leadership and turn it into an opportunity for favorable spin for UTD? Or did the Miami Herald put pressure on Karla Mats to take ownership of the opinion piece once they found out Balsera Communications was UTD’s PR company? Who knows?

At first glance, I mistakingly thought that Karla Mats had taken the time and effort to write her own letter defending UTD but after further examination, it appears to just be a lazy case of plagiarism on behalf of the teachers’ union President and condoned by the Miami Herald. Could the $150,000 a year earning President not be bothered to find 20 minutes in her day to write an original letter? It’s not like she’s been busy at the bargaining table as negotiations are stalled until after the November election.

Somehow the United Teachers of Dade managed to take a relatively innocuous letter to the Editor and turn it into a PR fiasco for Balsera Communications, the United Teachers of Dade and the Miami Herald. Instead of using the criticism as an opportunity to be great American heroes and generate positive spin by purchasing a new flag and have the media write a story about that, they paid a PR company to defend them against any accountability in an Opinion piece in the Herald. In the words of Walter Scott, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we at first we practice to deceive.”  A tragic farce indeed.

 

As subtropical storm Alberto washes away Miamians Memorial Day weekend plans, it seems fitting to pause and reflect on how superintendent Alberto has washed away Miami teacher pay during his ten year tenure. The first step to permanent teacher salary suppression took place during the Great Recession when step advancements were withheld for three years and teachers were never advanced accordingly on the step schedule when the economy recovered, thus delaying the ever evasive lifetime journey to the top of the pay scale.

Fed-and-AC

After negotiating away the steps entirely in September of 2015 with the assistance of current FEA Vice President/FEA Presidential candidate and former UTD President Fed Ingram, the current maximum teacher pay of $72,750 has become an unattainable Promised Land for all but a few thousand teachers who through dumb luck reached the top of the pay scale before steps were abolished. The withholding of steps for three years followed by the removal of the step schedule altogether, has permanently suppressed the salaries of mid to late career teachers in Miami Dade and the result has been a massive savings for the district.

Thanks to my teacher hoarder colleagues, I happened to have a salary schedule from 2000 forwarded to me and to my surprise, there are many mid-career teachers (16-22 years experience) working in MDCPS who would have made more money 18 years ago than they do today!

2001 steps

All Miami teacher salaries have lost considerable value since 2000 but the losses for mid-career teachers are staggering.

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Although superintendent Carvalho was not in charge when mid-career pay started to be collectively bargained away by UTD in favor of raising top pay and beginning salaries in 2005, his denial of steps for three years during the Great Recession and the subsequent removal of grandfathered teachers from the step schedule has caused financial devastation for mid to late career teachers working for the MDCPS. Granted Mr. Carvalho works extremely hard leading the 4th largest school district in the nation but is it fair that his salary has more than kept up with inflation over the past decade while not a single teacher’s salary in the MDCPS has come close with keeping up with inflation?

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Perhaps UTD could bring these charts to the next round of bargaining sessions?

In a rare moment of transparency for both the district and UTD at the last bargaining session, there was mention of a mysterious $50 million that was transferred into the general fund that could be used for salaries in December of 2017 just weeks after teachers voted yes to a 2-2.67% raise.

$50 million

There was no mention of where this $50 million dollars that could be used for salaries suddenly appeared from, why it wasn’t used for 2017-18 teacher salaries, and where it went after December 2017. It’s kind of like if you and your spouse went to buy a house, he insists that there is no way you can afford the house you really want, so you settle for a smaller house, sign the contract, and the next week your husband transfers $50 million into your checking account. You might be like, “WTF? Why didn’t you tell me we had an extra $50 million lying around before we signed the contract for the smaller house?”

Some are wondering exactly where this extra $50 million came from, and my wild theory (which may be totally off base), is that it is a reflection of how much money the district is saving on teacher salaries since they delayed step advancements for three years and then transitioned to a percentage based salary advancement. The former step schedule was based on an average step increase of around 3%. But the steps were so unequal in Miami Dade that some teachers at the bottom of the pay scale received 0-0.75% for the first 13 years with the promise of receiving 5-18% step increases in their mid to late career. Only now that the steps were thrown out, they are looking at a future of 2-3% increases in a booming economy thus ensuring they will never reach the advertised $72,750 maximum pay.

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After running the math on this rainy Memorial Day weekend regarding the salary savings to the district on mid to late career teacher pay using first hand statements of 2017 salary, the 2013 step schedule, and a public records release of how many teachers were at each step as of 2014 before steps disappeared from the system, I compiled the following chart.

Miami Dade Teacher Salary Savings After Removal of Steps 

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These numbers are neither perfect nor exact, but the savings are significant and the number coincides with the mysterious $50 million that appeared only after teachers agreed to a 2-2.67% raise. It makes one wonder, what if UTD hadn’t presented a 2-2.67% offer (worth approximately $30 million) to the bargaining unit? What if they had demanded more? What if teachers had voted down the contract and forced the district and union back to the bargaining table? Would the mysterious $50 million suddenly have appeared and been used to increase salaries for the 2017-18 school year?

Further proof that the mysterious $50 million is coming from the savings since steps were eliminated can be seen in this chart which shows that the amount spent on salaries has decreased $200 million despite a $100 million increase in the General Fund. Note there is a $50 million decrease from 2016-17 to 2017-18. These numbers were compiled using numbers made available on the districts financial affairs website under Executive Summaries.

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Mr. Carvalho should be praised for his economic stewardship of district funds during his tenure, however, his fiscally conservative nature might be bankrupting his workforce at the expense of growing an ever larger surplus in the General Fund (monies that could have been used for salaries). As of June 30th 2017, the General Fund surplus was stated as $222,269,017 according to the FLDOE. When Mr. Carvalho became superintendent in 2008, the General Fund balance was only $32,629,633.

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As we enter the 2018-19 bargaining season, let the mysterious $50 million be a lesson for both the union and MDCPS employees, when the district says they have no new money for salary increases, there’s probably $50 million worth of old money in a secret vault somewhere on N.E. Second Avenue just waiting for you to demand that it be used.

worst paid

As collective bargaining begins for the 2018-19 school year and the teacher compensation task force is set to hold its first meeting, Kafkateach decided to spend five minutes creating a revised step schedule that could conform to the mandates of SB 736 and allow the grandfathered veteran teachers to have some semblance of a financial future working for the MDCPS.  Because union leadership has apparently caught Royal wedding fever and is too busy on Facebook posting irrelevant nonsense like this

Royal Wedding

Kafkateach has taken it upon herself to find a financially feasible solution to the quagmire of how to solve the abysmally low mid to late career teacher compensation in Miami Dade County Public Schools. Upon careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to fairly compensate mid to late career teachers for the financial injustices forced upon them through a career’s worth of being undermined through UTD’s collective bargaining, would be to bring back steps. It couldn’t and shouldn’t be in the form of the whacked out South Florida version of steps where teachers spent the first half of their career earning $0-$300 salary increases only to be rewarded with an $8,000 step at the end of their career.

2006

That schedule was a collective bargaining abomination and would be financially impossible to implement according to SB 736 which mandates that the highly effective salary adjustment be higher than the largest step increase and the effective salary adjustment be 50-75% of the highly effective adjustment.

Salary adjustments.—Salary adjustments for highly
  627  effective or effective performance shall be established as
  628  follows:
  629         (I) The annual salary adjustment under the performance
  630  salary schedule for an employee rated as highly effective must
  631  be greater than the highest annual salary adjustment available
  632  to an employee of the same classification through any other
  633  salary schedule adopted by the district.
  634         (II) The annual salary adjustment under the performance
  635  salary schedule for an employee rated as effective must be equal
  636  to at least 50 percent and no more than 75 percent of the annual
  637  adjustment provided for a highly effective employee of the same
  638  classification.

Contrary to what South Florida union leadership repeatedly told their members, SB736 DID NOT MAKE STEPS ILLEGAL! Quite the opposite, the law states that grandfathered teachers were to remain on the grandfathered step schedule and they could only choose to opt into performance pay by relinquishing their continuing contract status.

Instructional
  576  personnel on annual contract as of July 1, 2014, shall be placed
  577  on the performance salary schedule adopted under subparagraph 5.
  578  Instructional personnel on continuing contract or professional
  579  service contract may opt into the performance salary schedule if
  580  the employee relinquishes such contract and agrees to be
  581  employed on an annual contract under s. 1012.335. Such an
  582  employee shall be placed on the performance salary schedule and
  583  may not return to continuing contract or professional service
  584  contract status. Any employee who opts into the performance
  585  salary schedule may not return to the grandfathered salary
  586  schedule.

Many Florida districts continue to use a step schedules and developed step schedules that could comply with the performance pay law without bankrupting districts. Somehow South Florida districts have implemented their own versions of SB 736 by doing away with steps altogether and using a maximum flexibility percentage based salary adjustment “schedule” that can be used by districts to bankrupt their teaching workforce instead.

For teachers that spent their entire teaching career earning 0-0.75% salary adjustments in anticipation of earning 5-15% salary increases in the second half of their careers, 2% salary increases for the foreseeable future is not going to cut it. A $750 retention supplement is not going to cut it either. Mid to late career teachers in Miami need to see major gains to compensate them for the financial losses they have already incurred. The only way to do that, is to bring back a step schedule that can comply with mandates of SB 736 while honoring the work of their veteran teachers by placing them on a new step that would better mirror what they should be making at this point in their career had they started in a normal district with equal step increments or started under the current performance based pay.

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For the purposes of being too lazy to bust out a calculator and bad at math with a readership that is also pretty bad at math, Kafkateach used a uniform step adjustment of $1,000 to show that steps are not incongruent with performance pay.  Some late careers might moan, “I should have been at the top of the pay scale four years ago!” but the steps could be adjusted to be a little higher overall or a little higher at the end of the pay scale to reduce the number of years it takes to get to top pay. Teachers’ years of experience would be honored and mid career teachers would be placed half way up the pay scale instead of stuck at the bottom after 15-18 years. Keep in mind that a current 15 year veteran makes $46,000, a current 22 year veteran makes $55,000 and a 25 year veteran makes $61,000. This pay scale would be a vast improvement over what they currently make and would provide them with a pathway to the top of the pay scale.

Example of a SB 736 Compliant Step Schedule

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Of course critics will say that the law mandates that districts use their 2014 grandfathered schedules. But the law also states that teachers were supposed to remain on the grandfathered step schedule and only voluntarily opt into performance pay.  South Florida districts haven’t been following the law for the past three years and the state doesn’t seem to be cracking down on them. So why not bring back a kinder gentler version of steps and honor the years of service of your veteran teachers by placing them where they should have been all along?

 

 

 

 

merit pay Fl

Hard to believe it’s been seven years since Florida passed SB 736, a law which was meant to boost student achievement by financially rewarding highly effective educators while ridding the system of ineffective teachers. That’s if you were actually naive enough to believe the publicly stated aims of Florida legislators, in which case I have a Miami bridge to sell you.

Florida politicians love to create evaluation systems for teachers, so I think it’s only fair to evaluate the performance of Florida’s performance pay law.

Strand 1  End Tenure

Stated Goal: Boost student achievement by ending job security for teachers.

Performance rating: Unsatisfactory

According to a recently released study by the Brookings Institute on the effect of ending tenure in Florida on student achievement, the authors concluded, “We find limited and circumstantial evidence that Florida’s tenure reform slightly increased student test achievement in math and reading.”

You can read the full Brookings report on teacher tenure here

Actual Goal: Strip teachers of job security rendering them too scared to criticize the privatization of public eduction or protest low salaries. Create an equal playing field between charters and public schools so no Florida educator would ever have job security again.

Performance rating: Highly Effective

As educators from West Virginia, to Oklahoma, to Arizona hold mass rallies and walk outs to protest low funding and low pay, Florida teachers have yet to hold any mass rallies against chronically low salaries and education funding from the state.

 

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Strand 2:  Teacher quality and recruitment

Stated goal: Raise student achievement by improving the quality of instructional services in the public schools by recruitment and retention.

Performance rating: Unsatisfactory

According to a Huffington Post article published last fall, “Almost three months into the school year, thousands of public school students in South Florida still don’t have a permanent teacher —a problem expected to get worse as more educators flee the classroom and the number of those seeking teaching degrees plummets.”

Actual goal: Make sure Florida schools are staffed by a cheap and temporary workforce that has no interest or ability in pursuing a lifelong career in education.

Performance rating: Highly Effective

The use of temporary J-1 visa holders as teachers has doubled over the past seven years: “Because the foreign teacher is working on a visa considered a “cultural exchange,” the district does not have to offer them the perks and benefits a regular teacher would get. States increasingly using the program to hire teachers include Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Nevada.

There were 2,867 J-1 visa holders placed in U.S. schools in 2017, up from about 1,197 in 2010, according to the U.S. State Department. The J-1 visa is temporary, lasting about two to three years.

Critics say the foreign teachers don’t hold the same credentials as local educators and are a legal loophole for districts to pay even lower teacher salaries. Plus, critics say, it’s not solving the overall issue – teacher shortages.” http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/05/14/school-districts-increasingly-hiring-foreign-teachers-to-fill-shortages.html

Strand 3: End seniority based layoffs

Stated Goal: Retain teachers based on educational program needs and the teachers’ performance evaluations

Performance Rating: Unsatisfactory

Florida teachers may be surprised to find out that next year who gets surplussed at an individual school will not be based on seniority but on their VAM score. This means that a well regarded teacher who received a perfect score on their observational performance measures by their administrator, may be involuntarily transferred because they received a low VAM score based on a very arbitrary measure of their effectiveness. See video below for further explanation.

 

Actual Goal: Encourage even further attrition of senior teachers who may have higher salaries and some degree of job security.

Performance Rating: Highly Effective

If a teacher who is very happy with their school position gets involuntarily transferred to a worse school or a school a great distance from their home, they are more likely to quit the profession altogether or retire early.

Strand 4: Performance Pay

Stated Goal:  Change how Florida teachers are paid, shifting from a traditional “step-and-lane” pay scale that rewards experience and advanced degrees to a performance-based scale with bonuses based on the new evaluation system. Hard-to-staff subjects like math and science pay more. Teachers hired before July 1, 2011 could remain under the old contract system, or they could switch to a performance-based pay system with renewable annual contracts.

Performance Rating: Unsatisfactory

Florida continues to underfund education and this year most districts have already stated that there will be no new money for raises due to a 47 cent increase in general operational funds. According to SB 736, Florida highly effective teachers were supposed to receive salary adjustments higher than the largest step increase. This would have meant $6,000 salary adjustments for many highly effective annual contract teachers. Instead, South Florida districts bargained away the grandfathered step schedules, ignoring state law, and the largest salary adjustment to date for highly effective annual contract teachers has been approximately $1,500 and it has decreased every year since. With districts crying poor and the state refusing to fund merit pay, Florida has implemented a performance pay system without the pay. Instead of paying all highly effective teachers a permanent large salary increase, the state has instead decided to reward only 5% of teachers with a $6,000 Best and Brightest bonus based on teachers’ SAT scores.

 

Actual Goal:  Reduce Florida teacher salaries to lower future pension payouts and make sure Florida charter schools could attract teachers without reducing their profit margins.

Performance Rating: Highly Effective

The only forms of performance pay funded by the state since the law was implemented back in 2011 have been in the form of one time bonuses which will not count for pension calculations or permanently increase a teacher’s salary leading to much lower pension obligations as the Florida teacher will be relegated to a career salary maxing out in the low fifties instead of the low seventies. With the elimination of a step schedule, there is no projected or guaranteed growth in a Florida teacher’s salary.

Florida politicians must be extremely proud of their complete decimation of the teaching profession under the guise of raising student achievement and teacher recruitment through performance pay. In 2017 Florida was rated as having the lowest salaries in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. Mission accomplished.

Florida lowest

 

 

how-to-stop-spending-so-much-money-on-classroom-supplies

I should preface this blog post by saying not ALL teachers hate Class Wallet. Miami Dade County’s implementation of the Class Wallet platform, however, will pretty much ensure that all Miami Dade County teachers hate Class Wallet by next fall. In case teachers missed the weekly briefing in your district email, (I’m guessing that would be about 90% of teachers), they may not be aware that ALL teacher supply purchases using state funds from the classroom supply assistance program next year must be made ONLY through the vendors listed on the Class Wallet platform. Consider forwarding this post to your clueless coworkers who may go out over the summer and spend $280 on classroom supplies thinking they will be reimbursed in September. They won’t!

So why is it a problem to force Miami Dade teachers to only use Class Wallet vendors? The main issues are threefold:

  1. Class Wallet vendors products are much more expensive than teachers could purchase at other places and allows private businesses to profit off of the little money we are given for supplies at the taxpayers’ and teachers’ expense.
  2. Class Wallet offers extremely limited items for purchase. If you want anything besides basic office supplies which most teachers already have available to them, you’ll be hard pressed to find $280 worth of products you want. Meanwhile, you will have to use your own money to purchase what you actually need for your classroom.
  3. Teachers will not be able to purchase any supplies until after the start of the school year! HUGE problem! Traditionally, teachers have not been reimbursed for their purchases until September 20th because the county wants new hires to have access to the supply funds. This would not be a problem IF we could still upload receipts and do our back to school shopping in August in order to get our classrooms ready. But without the ability to do any supply shopping until September, everything you need for the first month of school is going to come out of your own wallet.

Let me provide an illustrative example of the Class Wallet conundrum as implemented in Miami Dade County. Keep in mind that Miami Dade County is the only county in Florida forcing their teachers to only use Class Wallet vendors. Even other counties that use the Class Wallet platform continue to allow their teachers to upload receipts for reimbursements.

I do not use a lot of paper products or office supplies in my classroom. I have spent great time and effort to put my materials and assessments online.  This saves my school and district a lot of money on copies and scantrons. The only paper product I purchase using my teacher classroom assistance funds, are large poster size sticky notes for student presentations. If you’ve never purchased these large sticky note pads and have only seen them used in school site or district PDs you would think the stuff was so cheap it grew on trees. If you have purchased those large sticky note pads for your classroom, however, you realize those things are so expensive they must be made from gold trees! Because of the cost, I limit my lessons involving the large sticky notes to once a year. At the very beginning of the year! This year, because I won’t be able to purchase the sticky note pads until September, I just won’t do the lesson. Note to self: do your back to school shopping one year in advance so you will have the supplies you need the following August!

The thrifty teacher shopper in me will comparison shop in order to stretch my teacher supply money for maximum purchasing power. Most office supplies are available much cheaper on Amazon than Office Depot. I can purchase a four pack of the 25 x 30 post it pads on Amazon for under $80.

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On the regular Office Depot site, a four pack of the 25 x 30 Post-it pads will cost me almost $120! I may as well take $40 out of my own pocket and flush it down the toilet right now! Make a video of it and say “Your Florida tax dollars at work.”

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Keep in mind that the Class Wallet Office Depot site usually will add another 20-30% mark up from the regular Office Depot site. That is, if Office Depot is even a listed vendor anymore. This morning, when I went to do a little comparison shopping on Class Wallet, Office Depot was no longer even listed as a vendor even though it was there earlier in the week. This may have to do with my comments on social media about taking screen shots of the marked up prices on Class Wallet and tweeting them to School Board members.

I’m not a huge fan of Twitter, and I think most people’s pets have more followers on Twitter than myself, but I will use it every now and then. This week I used it in the Superintendent’s Twitter Town Hall and to my surprise I hadn’t been blocked (yet) and he even responded to my Tweet!  Thanks for your response Supe!

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It’s worth noting that the only person to like this Tweet was the marketing director of Class Wallet. This photo posted by a disgruntled teacher who’s $110 worth of Class Wallet copy paper delivered in shambles doesn’t really look like “facilitation of delivery” to me.

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This response makes it seem like the district really does not trust its teachers to actually spend their $280 on classroom supplies. They think we’re out their buying all sorts of bling with our $280 teacher supply assistance funds! I guess this response might make sense (can’t trust those corrupt and greedy Dade County teachers to purchase supplies for their classrooms) except that Best Buy is listed as a Class Wallet vendor. What exactly are we supposed to purchase at Best Buy that would not be classified as technology or “equipment”?

Speaking of which, it should be noted that there is nothing in the state statute that specifies that we can only buy consumables and are not allowed to purchase food. It only states we can’t buy equipment. You can read the state statute here

The classroom supply assistance funds are not subject to collective bargaining, so other than bringing teacher complaints to the district’s attention, I’m not sure there is much more UTD can do about this. Special shout out to UTD’s Mindy Grimes-Festge who took the time to tweet to the Supe about the district’s Class Wallet policy.

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I realize that $280 worth of classroom supply assistance funds is a rather small issue in the grand scheme of things, but it’s just disgusting to think that private businesses and the district are profiting off of funds coming straight out of teachers’ wallets. Any unused funds will be returned to the district, which really adds up when you have 20,000 teachers! In a year when we are hearing that no funds are available for teacher raises, to further debilitate our income by unnecessarily restricting when and where we spend our classroom assistance funds is demoralizing. Until we can upload receipts on Class Wallet or Amazon is listed as a vendor, I will see this as a $280 pay cut.

So what can teachers do? I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t do. DO NOT GO OUT AND SPEND YOUR OWN MONEY GETTING YOUR ROOMS READY FOR THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL! Let administration get angry enough over your sad looking walls to complain to the district. Let parents see your cold empty classrooms and long supply list on Back to School night and explain why your rooms look that way. Don’t be like these big hearted well meaning teachers who undermine their own cause and financial well being by spending thousands of dollars of their own money every year on their classrooms. Demand the system fully fund you and your classroom!

 

If they really don’t trust teachers to spend at least $280 on their own classrooms every year, just get rid of the program and put the money towards teacher salaries instead. I’d rather have the freedom to spend my own money where I want, on whatever I want, and whenever I want than to have the funds micromanaged to the point of uselessness.

 

If you are so irate about the district’s restriction of teacher supply funds, consider signing up to speak at the May 16th School Board meeting. You have until Monday afternoon to fax in the form. Hopefully, you will be in good company! Since this blog post is mostly geared towards Dade County teachers, I’m going to make one final plug to attend the rally for salaries at next week’s School Board meeting.

Red for ED flyer

So far Florida teacher protests have been MIA, let the 305 lead the way!

 

 

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I’d like to showcase some of the most bizarre gifts bestowed upon teachers in the name of “Teacher Appreciation” and offer a critique as to why these were perhaps not the most appropriate way to thank a teacher.

#1 Ramen Noodles

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I realize school budgets have been slashed over the past decade in many states, but Ramen noodles should never be given by administration to teachers as a token of their appreciation.  Food items that scream “impoverished college student” and “you don’t have time to have a real lunch” only serve as a reminder that teachers have chosen a profession that ensures them a lifetime of cheap, hurried, and not particularly nutritious or delicious lunches.

#2 Kisses with Barnyard Animals

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Let me preface this by saying, I love pigs. I think they’re cute and they taste good too, however, some teachers might find the thought of sucking face with swine on Teacher Appreciation Day a little offensive and unhygienic.

#3 Undergarments 

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Apparently, underwear (and in the thong form) is a much more common gift to teachers than one would have thought. There is even an entire line of teacher themed thong underwear available on Amazon. They really do sell EVERYTHING on Amazon! Whether it be from an administrator, a parent, or a student, giving a teacher a thong is just plain wrong! You don’t want your teacher to end up as a meme like this on Instagram.

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OR

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There is actually an entire “saw my teacher’s thong” genre of memes if you do a google image search. These are the most PG rated ones I could find. Teachers, do yourselves a favor, and save the thongs for the weekends!

So what is a good way to thank a teacher this Teacher Appreciation Day? If your school has the means, many PTAs have started offering Spa Days for school staff.

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Unless they married well, trips to the spa are few and far between for most teachers. Treating your teachers to a mani-pedi or midday massage is a great way to show your teacher appreciation. If your school doesn’t have the budget for such pampering, having the students write a thank you note to their favorite teacher and putting those notes in their mailbox on Teacher Appreciation Day will surely bring a smile to even the grumpiest of educators.  If you live in state that suffers from chronic underfunding of public education and low teacher salaries, wear Red for Ed during Teacher Appreciation Week May 7-11, take a selfie holding sign stating why you appreciate your child’s teacher and post to your preferred social media platform. Or, as one Miami teacher and public school parent pleaded in a recent Sun-Sentinel article,

“I ask that if you value teachers that you write letters, make phone calls, and/or write emails demanding that our public schools be funded adequately, that our teachers and school employees be compensated with a fair and adequate living wage and that our taxpayer dollars stop funding private for-profit charter schools. This would be the greatest gift you could give me or any public school teacher.”

And don’t forget the best teacher appreciation gift of all,  remember to vote for an education friendly candidate next November!

 

FEA wear red for Ed

If you have a received a particularly interesting, funny, or fantastic token of Teacher Appreciation, feel free to tell us about it in the commenting section below.

 

 

 

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The Florida State Legislature is considering going back to a Special Session.  The Florida Education Association is calling for an increase in education funding to be put on the agenda at this Special Session. But nothing will be discussed on education funding unless we demand it.  They will decide by early next week; so we need to move quickly. See the Tampa Bay Times article discussing this here.

We are also asking educators, parents, students and supporters of public education statewide to wear red on Monday, as well as to contact your state representatives and hold local rallies to demand Governor Rick Scott reconvene the Florida legislature be to fully fund Florida education and teacher salaries for the 2018-19 school year. You can get your representatives contact information here and send Governor Rick Scott an email here .
Miami Beach Action Alert! This coming Monday April 23rd at 4:00 pm we will be holding a rally to demand Governor Rick Scott reconvene the legislature for education funding at the North Beach Bandshell (7275 Collins Avenue).  All supporters of public education are welcome to attend (teachers, parents, students, local politicians…).
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We have all heard by now that teachers in Florida cannot go on strike for fear of being strung up on a lamp post by their toe nails and publicly flogged as they watch some Tallahassee bureaucrat from the FLDOE light up their hard earned teaching certificate and incinerate their careers. So what can Florida teachers do to let the public and politicians know their salaries have stagnated and their morale has declined with each  punitive piece of legislation passed each session?
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Consider taking a selfie wearing red or this awesome t-shirt made in Miami.
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You too can look this beautiful in this flattering red v-neck or crew neck as you demand to be paid for your labor.
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And your back side will look just as good and also make a statement!
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Can’t get the shirt? No problem. Wear red and hold a statement sign letting the public know how this state treats their teachers. If you aren’t a teacher, wear red and let the public know you support fully funded public schools and fairly compensated professional teachers. Make it your profile picture on Facebook through the month of May. Here are two examples:
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Are you a South Florida teacher who was illegally removed from the grandfathered step schedule? Want to know how much you should have been making 15 years ago compared to your actual salary in 2018? You can find the Palm Beach County and Miami Dade County 2006 step schedules below.
Palm Beach County’s 2006 Pay Schedule 
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Miami Dade County’s 2006 Pay Schedule
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Feeling camera shy? Want to keep your Facebook anonymity? Consider making this your profile picture for the next few weeks.
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Are you so inspired by your fellow protesting pedagogues in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona that you want to hold your own rally? Go for it! Look at what these motivated educators were able to pull off last week in Miami!
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Miami Action Alerts! Would you like to let your superintendent and School Board know that you will not accept another year without a substantial raise and that blaming Tallahassee is not good enough? That teachers deserve homes, not housing? Would you like to express your appreciation to School Board member Lubby Navarro and the United Teachers of Dade for their petition to put a referendum on November’s ballot to fund teacher salaries locally? You can do so at the next School Board meeting this Wednesday, April 25th. The form to speak must be faxed in by Monday afternoon. Click here for the form. We are also planning a larger rally for the final School Board meeting of the school year on May 16th. The budget will be decided by July’s School Board meeting so the time to act is now! Have no fear, your leader is even jumping on the pay teachers more bandwagon!
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To stay informed about future Miami actions, follow and like the Miami Educator Facebook page
Have a story to tell about teaching in Florida? Want to hear stories about other teachers in Florida and podcasts featuring education leaders? Tune into the Teacher Voice podcast and offer to tell your story. You can listen to my story in last week’s podcast here

In case you missed Kafkateach’s debut into the vlogosphere, you can check out my YouTube channel to witness one woman’s guerilla PR campaign about the absurdities of teaching in Florida (or descent into madness). Considering making your own short videos exposing the truth bombs about being a teacher in Florida. You’ll get the most views by posting them on Facebook.

Join the Florida Educators United Facebook group to more actively engage and organize. If you aren’t on Facebook, you can share this blog by emailing your friends.
If you think of any other actions, feel free to post them in the commenting section below.
Whatever you decide to do, just do it! And do it now! The time to act is now, because now is the only time!

SRO

  1. You get paid dawg! Starting salary of $46,410? It only takes a Pinellas County teacher 13 years to break $46,000. Annual salary increases and you’ll break $50,000 by year 4. We have teachers in Miami who haven’t broken $50,000 after teaching 20 years!
  2. Signing bonuses? Relocation stipends? All they do to recruit teachers in Miami is offer to build them affordable housing projects at a school in one of the worst neighborhoods in Miami.
  3. You get a take home vehicle! I bet you don’t have to pay for gas or insurance either.
  4. No college degree required! No need to worry about hefty student loan debt that could saddle you for life.
  5. No papers to grade! After school hours your free to do whatever you want.
  6. No lesson planning. Enjoy every Sunday afternoon without the 4 p.m anxiety attack setting in when you realize you have nothing planned for Monday morning.
  7. You can retire after 25 years!
  8. No VAM! No undecipherable algorithm to rate your professional worth and determine your pay. No SAT scores required for bonuses either!
  9. No emails or parent teacher conferences with irate parents who will blame you for their child’s F even though little Johnny spent every class period playing Fortnight on their Macbook Air using tax payer funded district wi-fi instead of paying attention in class.
  10. Number of teachers and school personnel killed in Parkland, 3. Number of school resource officers killed, 0.

As the state of Florida prepares to spend $400 million on a school resource officers who so far have only been proven to hide behind walls when active shooters are present and who have fallen asleep in their squad cars at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school AFTER the shooting, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask school districts to at least match teacher starting pay to that of school resource officers.

While I’m at it, considering that most school personnel and teachers have multiple job responsibilities, maybe school resource officers could be asked to fill in as subs, proctor tests, make copies, answer the phone at the front desk, relieve teachers for bathroom breaks, or help enforce the school uniform and ID policy?

Considering the fact that the average American has a 0.0012% chance of dying in mass shooting according to the CDC, the Florida legislature might want to reconsider allocating  at least another $400 million of categorical funding for teacher salaries the next time they convene. We know the money is there, we know you can you do it. What will it take for you to finally value the classroom heroes in your state?

 

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In the wake of the largest teacher protests this century over teacher salaries and benefits, Florida teachers unions have been remarkably silent.  It’s as if the crimson tsunami of teacher rebellion sweeping across the nation from West Virginia to Oklahoma and now Arizona has completely bi-passed the Sunshine state. Are we somehow better off than teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona? I would argue that other than a closer drive to Disney World and a free annual pass to Legoland, the answer is a resounding “No!”

The situation is even more dire for teachers in Miami-Dade who face some of the highest housing costs in the nation but have median salaries similar to those of teachers in Oklahoma and Arizona. According to the Florida Department of Education, the median teacher salary for teachers in Miami-Dade in the 2016-17 school year was only $45,236.

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Compare that to a median salary of $50,919 in Tucson, Arizona. Note that housing costs in Miami are nearly double that of housing in Tucson and someone earning $50,919 in Tucson would need a salary of $65,800 in Miami just to compensate for the cost of living difference.

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Similarly, although median teacher salary in Oklahoma is comparable to median teacher salary in Miami-Dade a teacher would have to make almost $74,000 in Miami to compensate for the higher cost of living!

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The reaction of Florida teachers unions to this unprecedented widespread teacher activism has been a deafening silence.  Scroll through the Facebook page of the United Teachers of Dade and you won’t find one post about either the illegal yet successful strike in West Virginia, the threat of a strike in Oklahoma and their legislature’s immediate response with a bill promising a 5% pay raise, and now Arizona teachers’ protests demanding a 20% raise. Instead, you’ll find a post about women workers striking in Spain and a worker walkout over the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

So what gives? Why are Florida teachers unions choosing not to ride this wave of teacher activism and gather up the troops for a rally in Tally over inadequate teacher salaries? Granted, this is a rally that should have taken place last month while the legislature was still in session and the budget hadn’t been signed yet. Why did the FEA not seize this historical moment to finally make some demands of the Florida legislature and governor?

For the past decade teachers in this country have been vilified in the media as lazy vacation lovers with bloated pensions.  Now the tide has finally turned and we are being portrayed in a more sympathetic light, as underpaid and devoted public servants who risk their lives every day for other people’s children. The fact that we are getting any media attention at all, let alone positive attention, is an important step in the right direction. I turned on the Today show this morning and the lead story was about teachers in Arizona demanding a 20% raise.  Even The Talk held a brief discussion about Miami’s plan to house teachers at schools and when Sara Gilbert commented, “Well, if it’s such a rich area pay your teachers more,” the audience actually applauded!

For the first time in years teachers have the public’s support and the media’s attention. Unions need to capitalize on this critical moment in order to try to win back some of the financial losses teachers have incurred over the past decade.

So where are Florida teachers unions at this pivotal juncture?

Perhaps many unions with faltering membership like UTD are more concerned about possible decertification than being part of this teacher salary zeitgeist. But the sad fact is that when your median teacher salary is $45,000 and teachers can’t even afford housing in the city where they teach, they don’t have an extra $90 a month to pay the highest union dues in the country with a promised return on investment of 0-3%.  When teachers in Arizona are demanding a 20% raise and our union settles for 2% repeating the annual mantra of “something is better than nothing,” teachers start to lose faith in their union’s ability to negotiate a fair salary.

Since the decertification bill was passed this year, Florida unions are desperate to increase membership. But instead of calling for radical action, they have turned to blaming the teachers themselves for the sad state of their profession.  Based on recent Facebook comments of  union leadership and people representing union leadership, their talking points seem to consist of: A) What have you done for your union? and B) Teachers need to go out and vote.

Who the hell is telling unions the best way to recruit new members is to blame the victim? What kind of sick and twisted marketing strategy is that? What if Weight Watchers’ marketing strategy consisted of “Hey you fat lazy tub of lard, put down that donut and go for a jog! Now pay me $88 a month and be grateful that you don’t gain even more weight on our program. What? You only lost half a pound after 6 months of Weight Watchers? Well something is better than nothing. Be grateful you didn’t gain five pounds. Now drop and give me 15 push ups.”

I don’t even understand what it means when unions ask, “What have I done for my union?” What exactly is it that I’m supposed to be doing? You asked me to wear black, I wore black. Nothing changed. You asked me to email the School Board. I emailed the School Board. Nothing changed. I went and voted. My candidate won. Nothing changed. You asked me to work to the contract? I worked to the contract. Nothing changed. Please ask me to do something more meaningful, more radical, more effective because the status quo is not working. When teachers in West Virginia rocked the status quo, it worked. When teachers in Oklahoma threatened similar action, their legislature  suddenly found $447 million for a 5% raise. Teachers in Arizona are aiming high. Will they get a 20% raise? Probably not, but I bet they end up with more than 2%.

It may be too late to effect change in Tallahassee this year. But local bargaining sessions for the 2018-19 school year are about to begin. Stand strong Florida teachers. Don’t back down and don’t settle for less than you are worth. Organize at the local level and ride that crimson tide of teacher activism. The time is now because now is the only time. Carpe Diem.