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Sometimes a selfie is worth a thousand words.

OK, so technically it wasn’t a “selfie,” obviously someone else took this photograph because I don’t take selfies due to my old age and plethora of bad angles, but the purpose was the same as the Wikipedia definition of a selfie: “Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook,  Instagram, and Twitter. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual.” Like, “Hey, look at me just hanging out in a dress at the School Board building holding a laminated sheet of paper around my neck with my years teaching and pathetic salary.”

I hope my readers realize that this selfie comes at great personal humiliation and strife. My husband is about to unfriend me on Facebook and claims I have gone “full nutter” (I counter only half nutter and I blame it all on working under the absurdities of the MDCPS for 14 years).  My seven year old son was a little sweeter about seeing his mom on TV with a sign around her neck, “You look nice mommy, it’s like you have your own dog collar.”

Contrary to what some might think, I do not attend School Board meetings for the fun of it. Though I have to admit my coworkers and I had at least a little fun at this impromptu photo shoot where we had to push a police cart out of the way to get this picture taken. I thought my coworker’s shirt and my sign made for a perfect match up made even though it wasn’t planned.

Hiraldo and I

Unlike the misfortunate custodial workers who had to wait until 10:45 pm to speak, the public hearing session started right on time. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article152542014.html

Prior to the public speakers portion, a group of Haitians spoke about Trump’s deportation threats against Haitians who came to the United States after the earthquake under temporary protected status. The Board was unanimous in their support of the Haitian community.

The Board chair even allowed them to clap stating: “You are allowed to clap. If it’s done in a respectful way.”

The Superintendent chimed in that he had been to Haiti several times and even closed the segment by speaking a little Haitian creole. (Is there anything this man can’t do? Answer: he can’t figure out how to improve teacher pay or compensate grandfathered teachers for their financial losses.)

No Board meeting is complete without a good round of tooting their own horns and pats on the back. The Board congratulated themselves for raising 3rd grade reading scores more than any other urban area and for closing the achievement gap. (Not sure when the last time any of these Board members tried to teach a low income ESOL 3rd grader how to read was but they sure acted like it was due to their hard work).

One Board member boasted: “We typically talk about the bottom line, Miami Dade outperformed all other large districts in the state.” (Hmm..let’s see if they can outperform Broward in teacher raises?)

Superintendent: “The achievement gap is where we saw the biggest gains. 6% increase for African Americans and a 20% increase for English language learners. I am impressed with the caliber of teaching.” (Show me the money)

Gallon must have read my mind: “Have we contemplated how to incentivize teachers? Many teachers don’t want to teach third grade because of the high stakes involved.”

Superintendent: “We’ve contemplated incentives in high risk areas.”

Gallon: “There are societal implications with high stakes third grade testing. Third grade data is used as a predictor for how many prison beds we’re going to build.”

Then another Board member proceeded to thank everyone, and I mean everyone in the entire school system for the third grade achievement data: “I want to commend all of the stakeholders: the Superintendent, staff members, teachers, principals, interventionists, parents, and community members. Most importantly I want to thank the students (none of whom would have been watching this meeting). I don’t want to forget the region office or any other district employee.”

Kafkateach would personally like to thank ONLY my son’s teachers and reading interventionist who enabled him to grow by leaps and bounds this school year! You deserve all of the credit! Not the School Board or the downtown district types. Just you classroom teachers that worked with my son day in and day out and produced amazing achievements. You did it.

After all of Dade County had been congratulated, the Board aired a video celebrating Dade County’s status as “The Best Choice District in America.”

Enough with the sunshine and lollipops, it was time for the Superintendent to give his annual economic doom and gloom forecast just in time for contract negotiations. Watch out Dade County teachers! There is an economic tsunami heading your way and you know what that means!

Superintendent: “Time is of the essence.  We are flirting with a man made perfect storm. A man made crisis as far as funding is concerned. We are looking at very meager increases in funds for education.  You’d have to go back to a recessionary year to match that outcome. With a $5.9 million increase in funding, once you subtract the mandatory increase of $5.7 million back to Tallahassee for retirement, that’s a $200,000 increase. That’s a fifty cent increase in per pupil spending. What can you get for 50 cents per student? A pack of gum? The kids said “No. A pack of gum costs one dollar. You can only get a gum ball.” We funded education at the  price of a one gum ball for every child. And then the harmful parts of bill 7069. I’m not going to bore you with the details.  Then there are significant and devastating cuts from the Federal government. The Federal administration released its budget. A $9 billion dollar reduction, a reduction in Title 1 funds, a complete reduction of Title 2, a 13% reduction comprising vocational education and technology. The third element, is that the ESEA provides for higher percentage of funds retained by the state.  We are flirting with a man made perfect storm. I am forever hopeful. If it is man made, it can be resolved by man. We hope to accomplish the mitigation of these effects through town hall meetings and social media. We have three major storms converging on the issue of education funding and it will put Miami and every other school system in Florida and around the country in jeopardy. The question is why? We are in the midst of a great economy. We are in a  race to the bottom. Are our children worth more than a gum ball?”

Gulp. There just went any hopes of a 5% raise to match Broward. If the kids are only getting a gum ball, that’s going to equate to one tic tac per teacher. With that category 5 hurricane of an economic forecast we’ll be lucky if we get 1%. Heck, with a speech like that we’ll be lucky if he doesn’t take 1%.

Up next UTD President Karla Mats.

Karla Mats:  “I’m here to speak about the test results. We are test obsessed. We have to live within the system put in place by Tallahassee. The teachers continue to shine in the face of the challenges we face: mobility, economic issues. How does the budget surplus of 3 billion lead to such small increases in funding? It’s sickening and disheartening. We need our governor to recognize this hard work. We call on the governor to veto the bill. They failed the test. The governor can force a retake.

We service over 350,000 students. We need our community to help us. Hear our plea. Contact the governor and ask him to veto the budget. 850-717-9337. Email Rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com  Advocate for children. Public education is the last equalizer.”

UTD VP Antonio White: “I stand before you here with a host of education advocates throughout the community. Veto HB7069. This is one of he most egregious education bills in history. There are deliberate attacks on teachers and students. We need strong fully funded public schools. We are simply tired of seeing politicians putting children last. Year after year we have witnessed a systematic dismantling of public education. We represent 80% of the largest employer in Dade County. Our people also have needs. Find a way when their appears to be none. Find a way to move our work force forward. The welfare of our children and those who serve them is our responsibility. We cannot sit idly by while they asphyxiate our workforce. This bill was negotiated in secret. Definitely out of the sunshine. Demand a veto of HB 7069 . Stand up for students and educators.”

Dad of a 5th grader who is always reminding the Board that their Values Matter campaign actually matters: “Integrity is a value that matters. Integrity, the mother of all virtues. Integrity requires continuing to adhere to principles. It is instilled at home, by teachers, or mentors. There is no such thing as collective integrity. Like the pursuit of excellence, it is personal. Personal integrity is counter to looking the other way.  How can we interact with others that do not hold our values?  Be yourself, trust yourself, find an honorable way. Integrity as defined is difficult. Idealistic, impractical. It is the subject of films about people who made a difference in the lives of others. Listen to different point of views. Exercise appropriate criticism. Be willing to stand alone. Be sincere. Live life with integrity and virtue.”

Words to live by. Kafkateach is up next. This is my third time at the podium. I hate public speaking but I’ve done it three times. It would be nice if some of the other 18,000 plus teachers in Dade County would sign up to take their turn at the podium:

Here is the link to the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYPKc1CWqh0&t=32s

I definitely suffer from resting bitch face syndrome unlike Karla Mats who can’t wipe the smile off her face even if she tried.

If you’d rather not look at my RBF or listen to me speak, here is the text of the speech:

“Good evening. I’d like to start with a quote from our superintendent:

“Budgets are a reflection of values. We budget what we value. We defund what we don’t value.”

As I stand here today wearing a sign stating that after 14 years of teaching for Miami Dade County Public Schools my base pay is only $44,900, I think it is fair to say that teachers are not valued.

It’s embarrassing for me to stand here wearing this sign, but it should be a bigger embarrassment for the board.

When I signed my contract to teach for the district back in 2003, I was supposed to be able to reach top pay after 22 years. After 14 years of teaching, my salary is only $4,000 from the bottom of the pay scale and $27,000 from the top. I’m almost halfway through my career, how will I ever reach the top now?

Even more illuminating evidence of the declining value of teachers over the last decade, is the fact that there are over 7,000 mid-career teachers working for the district in 2017 that made less than they would have in 2004 without even adjusting for inflation! Adjusting for inflation, some of these teachers are making over $20,000 a year less!

I realize Tallahassee’s consistent commitment to underfunding Florida public schools is a major obstacle to paying teachers what they are worth, but almost 60% of the district’s budget is derived from local revenue according to the district’s own statistical highlights. The same report showcases the fact that the number of teachers employed by the district continues to shrink despite slight increases in student enrollment. In 2007 the district employed 22,393 teachers. In 2016, they employed only 18,275 teachers. By employing 4,000 teachers less than a decade ago, despite gains in enrollment, the district is saving over $225 million on teacher salaries alone. It seems like at least a portion of that money could be used to reward teachers for their efficiency and extra labor?

Although state revenue is stagnant and remains abysmally low, local revenue is booming. According to the district’s budget report for the 2016-17 school year, property tax collections were are up $60 million from the previous year and are projected to continue to increase by $60 million for the next three years. I realize I don’t understand the intricacies of the budget, but perhaps a some of those funds could be used to help subsidize teacher salaries in a city with such expensive real estate?

I stand here today to ask the district to find a way to value your teachers, especially your experienced and dedicated teachers who were financially devastated in the transition to performance pay. We have given Miami’s public school children the world, all we ask for in return is what we were promised.”

The Superintendent’s immediate rebuttal: “A couple of truthful corrections, there are fewer teachers now because they migrated to charter schools. When taxes go up Tallahassee appreciates it. With booming property values, the state funding goes down. The state with a complex formula takes into account how much is contributed locally. State funding goes up when local goes down. The state suppressed local taxes so that people will not be paying one more dollar, even though their home is worth more.  There are fewer teachers because of fewer students. $30 million a year goes to charter schools.  The more the district puts in, the more state takes away. The state puts in money as an equalizer. The vast majority comes from local contributions. 60% local, 40% from state. We make a greater contribution than the state returns.”

I consider the superintendent’s rebuttal a small victory because he didn’t even try to address the issue of teacher salaries because he knows it’s true. He’s probably done the math and marvels over how many hundreds of millions of dollars the district will be saving off the backs of the misfortunate mid-career teacher cohort.

Now for my imaginary rebuttal about the Superintendent’s points about blaming charter schools and the Tallahassee funding model.

Kafkateach imaginary rebuttal: “While I do concede that some of the loss in Dade County teachers may be due to charter schools, it cannot alone explain a decline of over 4,000 teachers. More likely it has to do with changes in how the class size amendment is calculated over the years. There was one year where the district actually followed the class size amendment at the class level. But ever since they have tweaked the formula so much that it has been effectively nullified. I think any teacher who has been working for the district for the last ten years can testify to the fact that their student load has drastically increased. When I began teaching in 2003, there was a maximum student load of 150 students. Now there is no maximum. Teaching 175 students at the secondary level is the norm, if you want a supplement you will be closer to 200.

As per the state’s funding formula, the Superintendent is correct that the more funds we produce at the local level, the less the state will return to us. If that’s the case, then why did the district hold back on giving us steps for three years during the Great Recession when the district’s budget was only under $5 billion for 2 years (It was still over $4 billion)?  http://drs.dadeschools.net/StatisticalHighlights/SH0910.pdf Imagine the long term costs savings to the district on holding back steps for three years! They can use the economy as an excuse to not give you a raise, but when the economy is booming that doesn’t lead to more money in their coffers either. ”

Math Stud and UTD steward who has spoken at his fair share of School Board meetings: “I’m a calculus teacher. I’ve been teaching 24 years and I have struggled financially. I’m not here to complain about my salary, but the median salary being low compared to the cost of living was reported by the local Herald and nationally by a former Secretary of Education. We taught today and will teach tomorrow. Many of us have to work an extra job. We don’t feel respected, we can’t even make a single copy at our schools. I feel for the plight of our mid-career teachers, many of whom see no way to move forward because we no longer have a salary schedule. Our teachers are exhausted and must teach an extra period. Remember your teachers when you go to the upcoming negotiations.”

My Comrade Coworker with the Cool Red t-shirt (by the way, she is also from the San Francisco Bay Area where activism is a local hobby):

Here is the link to her speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYiybiXtTNc&t=3s

“I have been in education since 1999 as an ESOL teacher. I perform a job that cannot be measured by standardized test scores. I’m the person their parents contact, I provide counseling for students. I provide a nurturing environment that encourages learning. I provide teacher conferences for parents that don’t speak English and feel comfortable with me because I establish a relationship with them. I have students who do not have breakfast in the morning. Students who live pay check to pay check. Yet I am not in a better situation. I too live pay check to pay check. I must teach an extra period and add an extra 25-30 students because my  $44,000 is not enough to cover the cost of living in South Florida. I’m single, no kids, no property so no tax break. A huge chunk of my salary goes to taxes. Plus I have student loans. I find myself getting deeper and deeper into debt because I must use credit cards. I have excellent credit but only qualify for a $155,000 veteran loan with a supplement, without it I qualify for less. I had to move 45 minutes away so I can afford rent. Sad that I would have to leave the community I serve in which I work because I, a teacher with experience and love for teaching cannot afford to live in the community where I work and serve.

Please take into consideration that the baby boomers are retiring and with a lack of incentives to join, or remain in the profession, the quality of teaching will decrease and so will the pool of highly qualified teachers. Guess who’s going to be effected at the end. The students. The people you claim to be fighting  for the most.”

The Master Litigator is up next. If anyone knows how to sue the school district, it’s him. If you would like to join the class action lawsuit against the district and union, here is the link http://teachersmatter.info/ or go to Facebook and search for the Grandfathered Lawsuit group: You can see his speech and imaginary rebuttal here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMo-CRQJJR8&feature=youtu.be

“I’ve been around a while. I’ve been here for positive reasons receiving awards for Science teacher of the year. For the new board members I’d like to ask for your help. We haven’t been able to get where we’re trying to get. I’d like to bring up the Florida statute that states what your powers and duties are: to provide for the duties of public schools, in addition to state funds, and arrange for levying. There are 3 inaccuracies that have been promoted: Tallahassee is not cutting the budget, you set the budget. Tallahassee has increased the budget every year except for the bust years. We are not maxed out in our ability to tax. Blank spaces catch our eyes. When you make a contract and you don’t raise the money. We’ve lowered $195 million in taxes. Raise the millage. ”

Superintendent’s rebuttal: “I need to correct the record. Per pupil funding is still below all time high of 2007 preceding the recession. Base student allocation is going down by $27. Total education, money for charter values put all together and as a total value results in .34% increase for Dade.  I too taught calculus. 50 cents per kid is not enough. We are still below the all time high. This is verifiable to anyone who wants to go beyond partisan publications. This board has levied the maximum millage. That’s why it’s called “the required local effort.” We are levied the max every year. We levy the discretionary mileage to 100%. The only latitude is in debt service. Operating millage that pays for teacher salaries has been levied in full. Some districts have taken to the voters a special tax. But that is not something the board can vote. The people would have to vote.”

Kafkateach imaginary interjection: “The people can’t vote on a special tax unless the Board proposes it!”

Unfortunately, nobody on the Miami Dade School Board seems to give a rat’s behind about low teacher salaries or the criminal robbery of mid-career teachers’ financial future.

At least one member cares about Board protocol and on occasion will challenge the Superintendent.

Gallon: “I need a point of order. If we are going to start rebutting speakers, I have points to rebut as well. Historically speakers have the right to present their case. I have an intent to look into matters but I have no intent of dissecting it on the dais.”

Harvey the Lawyer: “Dr. Gallon is correct. The purpose of the public speakers is to receive public comment and not address concerns directly. You are right.”

Karp interjects to defend the Superintendent: “We have spoken about the purpose of the public hearing to receive information, prior to your arrival.  As a board occasionally we ask the superintendent to clarify.”

Superintendent: “I want to agree with both of you. It’s not my standard to rebut. If the information is so egregious, then we have to intervene. It is not my wish to engage in a debate in the public hearing. At times, the information is so disconnected from the truth that it merits some recalibration.”

Mr. Real Men Wear Pink (He looks like the Rock wearing a pink polo. You can check him out here: https://www.facebook.com/grandfatheredlawsuit/videos/333566137062990/ )

“I’d like to discuss two words, appreciation and irony. I find it ironic that in a month that this county is recognized for its fiscal responsibility and teachers are supposedly appreciated. How was the county able to receive this recognition? By failing to recognize teachers’ years of service or this county ‘s obligation to salaries.  I was taught that actions speak larger than words, so when I receive a robo call telling me how much I’m appreciated but yet I know the reality, that this county has done nothing to recognize the imposed financial sacrifices of teachers, I can’t help but find it ironic. How many years has this county refused to raise the millage? Why? So Board members can run for office? The Board’s unwillingness to raise the millage to fulfill your obligation to your employees. How can the Superintendent and Board members say they’ve lowered taxes and then say we’re “Levied to the max.” There is a disconnect. To further illustrate my point, I’ll ask a simple question, and I’ll challenge anyone to provide an answer, how many years will it take, even under the best financial forecast to reach the salary max? Take myself for example, I have 12 years of service, under the best economic situation a minimum of 10 additional years. Is that appreciation? There is a crisis in this county to obtain teachers. In 2015 I made a promise that I will fight for my profession and I am hear to remind you that I have not wavered from that promise.”

Superintendent rebuts again: “I realize it’s not a debate (but I’m going to rebut what you said anyways because I’m the Superintendent and I can do that). This school board has not ever lowered its taxes from the max. It can be verified in our budget book. Considering the tenuous situation with Tallahassee it is not true.”

The English Teacher with the Shakespearean Surprise Tactics is up next: (notice how this speaker starts complimentary and positive and then goes in for the jugular at the end. Et Tu Brute?)

“I am a Miami Dade County teacher. A product of Miami Dade County public schools. We are the county with the largest amount of foreign residents. The discussion of TPS was spot on. I think that speaks to our community. I admire the strong stand of the board about this budget on the governor’s desk. It would be terrible for our urban and diverse district to pass such a bill. Something I remember clearly, when our new contract was announced was the photograph of the district and the union smiling as they signed our steps away. It was painful to remember the handshake between the union and the district because of the financial loss it meant to me. I don’t put my time into understanding the budget. But as we negotiate the contract can we find a way to put teachers first?”

Ms. Former ESE Teacher Who Is the Embodiment of Integrity: You can watch this month’s speech, and her many other Board speeches here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNDnjZm1L6I&feature=youtu.be

“It has now been 9 months since I resigned and brought forth concerns about our ESE department. As elected members who serve our children and our community I am extremely disappointed with your response and lack their of. I have received business cards and thumbs up from some of you, including a job offer. All of which are equivalent to nothing and only confirm my suspicions. Your silence indeed proves your role in being complicit. How is it I can come before you for 7 straight months and not have one of you consider the matter? Is it because I’m not passionate or tenacious enough? Or is it simply because you in your eyes the system is just dandy? Other parents and other teachers will tell you otherwise. Are the number of advocates fighting against the system not enough red flags? Are we waiting for a hefty lawsuit? What is it going to take for you to look closely at the fact that our ESE Department needs help? Is there something you need from me other than to not come back? Because that’s not going to happen. Let me remind you that in this state we have the McKay scholarship which make it easy for parents to walk away from the failing system. It would be interesting to see how different it would be if we really had to provide the appropriate education as a public school. But I guess that the McKay scholarship letter must take a huge load off your back. Perhaps our problem is that our ESE population is a very small percentage of the student population. Sooner or later they will be our largest population. I say our largest population because day in and day out we continue to let students slip. At this point we are throwing them down the cracks due to several factors. The most concerning are the shortage of staffing specialists, school psychologists and social workers that play a vital role in student placements. I’ve experienced cases where students wait years, yes years, to get evaluated and staffed. Don’t get alarmed, it’s been happening for years. At risk students have to wait for evaluations. They have to wait past FSA testing. They have to wait past summer. They have to wait for high priority cases where the scary parent called the district and threatened a few. There are plenty of parents who know something is wrong but lack the knowledge of their rights and financial means to hire an advocate and must wait. This waiting game is a waste of valuable educational time for our students who deserve an appropriate education. I haven’t asked for anything impossible over the past 9 months. I’ve asked for support for our ESE Department.  A thumbs up and “thank you for your passion” is not enough and is not cutting it. I give up one Wednesday once a month to seek help for those who fear retaliation or simply can’t make it. I give up time with my family at times like these where every second together counts. I have seven more months to go this year and I hold onto the hope that one of these meetings you’ll actually listen.”

I can testify to the veracity of the speaker’s statements. My youngest son has a speech delay and we’ve been trying to get help for the past year. My husband has taken time off of work, driven all over Dade County, been billed a thousand dollars for a hearing test because the county hearing machine wasn’t working and my district insurance won’t cover it, and my son has still not received any help. And I have connections in the system! Imagine what it’s like for those parents without any connections!

Not one to let a School Board public hearing session end on a negative note, some young bilingual teacher showed up to return us to your previously scheduled sunshine and lollipops programming.

Lil’ Miss Sunshine: “We want equity for all students. I want to thank the Superintendent and UTD. Not everything is negative. We need to improve communications as to what is going on and how salaries are allocated. Get involved . Many members have received the call to action as to what is going on with public education.  Thank you for investing in our children.”

I’ve certainly done my part to improve communications as to what is going on. Check out Kafkateach’s first and hopefully last attempt at filmmaking about Miami teacher salaries https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V-VKqmXV5Q. As far as investing in the children of Miami Dade County, a big part of that is investing in people who spend each day working most closely with them. Invest in your teachers! We are the face of Miami Dade County Public Schools! Literally. That’s why I took the selfie.

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