School district employees to hold rally
Local unions and school district employees from Lee County are teaming up to demand that the Florida Legislature “Make Our Schools A Priority.”
Their campaign plan is to inform parents about what is at stake with the state’s $500 million worth of proposed cuts that could result in the loss of experienced teachers and the elimination of programs that bring music, art, drama or technology in the classroom.
The Lee County School District is the largest employer in the county and millions withheld from the district budget could further inflate a 10 percent unemployment rate, decrease state tax revenue and devastate the local economy.
Mark Castellano, president of Island Coast FEA Service Unit, said that FEA will host a local demonstration of between 500 and 1,000 people in front of the Lee Education Center on Saturday, Feb. 21, to demand that funding stays in the classroom.
Later 500 teachers, staff and parents will climb aboard buses and travel to Orlando for a rally at the University of Central Florida on Feb. 28. Castellano said that it won’t be a political rally because no politicians will attend, but the 500 demonstrators intend to join thousands statewide to send a message.
“The focus of the rally will be on trying to get our Legislature to do the things that need to be done to diversify funding for education,” said Castellano.
He said the Legislature needs to find a way to diversify educational funding formulas that dole out money to the state’s 67 school districts, look at tax reform to harvest more revenue and stop looking at cuts as a solution.
Besides the academic impact of employing less teachers, Bob Rushlow, president of the Support Personnel Association, said looming cuts could have far reaching consequences.
Less custodians could spell problems with cleanliness or indoor air quality and cuts to food service employees could lead to slower service and decreased quality. More profoundly, driver lay-offs may cause delays in getting students to school on time.
“It’s not just teachers, but support staff, too,” said Rushlow. “We are at the point where we don’t know where we are going to stop cutting programs.”
The district eliminated some support positions and decreased the work day hours of cafeteria workers last year without any considerable changes, but the next round of cuts could put local schools in a tailspin.
Furthermore, classrooms designed for special-needs children with learning or mental disabilities will see a dip in academic achievement if paraprofessionals are taken out of the classroom because these positions are for classroom aides who work one on one with ESE students.
“Our paraprofessionals actually work on the kids one on one. If they aren’t there to do it, our kids won’t be successful and you will see the scores go lower,” said Rushlow.
And after-school programs that kept kids engaged and safe could be traded for long hours of isolation where some students could turn to violence or crime, he said. Many times the programs aren’t simply educational but provide a positive environment for youngsters.