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Teachers rally for sales tax increase to fund schools

By Staff | Feb 22, 2009

Hundreds of Lee County School District employees gathered at the education center on Saturday to send a message to legislators that “enough is enough.”
Almost all of the demonstrators were members of the school district’s employee unions and wore matching blue shirts proclaiming “Make Our Schools A Priority.”
Spearheaded by the Florida Education Association, the campaign is asking for a one cent sales tax increase and an overhaul of what the association considers an antiquated tax exemption system.
The FEA estimates that over the next three years a one cent sales tax increase would generate $10.5 billion.
Mark Castellano, president of the FEA’s Island Coast Service Unit, was visibly aggravated at Saturday’s rally.
“Our legislators have continually talked the talk but have miserably failed to walk the walk,” he said. “The point of us being here today is to say to Governor Crist and the Florida Legislature it is time for them to get it that the system is broken.”
According to Castellano, Amendment 1 only succeeded in taking money from education and didn’t improve Florida’s tax code. He added that public education has experienced $2 billion worth of cuts since 2007 including $120 million in Lee County.
“Lee County already leads the state in unemployment and (is) leading the nation in foreclosures,” he said.
Nicole Savarese, a teacher at San Carlos Elementary, teaches children diagnosed with Autism and said she is concerned about the district cutting support personnel.
“They are threatening to cut support staff. We need them, they don’t fill glue or make copies, they co-teach with us,” she said. “If they cut those people it will be more like crowd management than instruction.”
In order to deal with an estimated $70 million worth of cuts in 2010 the district could eliminate many “above-the-formula” programs including art and music.
An art teacher at San Carlos Elementary, Bonnie Rogers, explained that art allows children to express themselves. She built a model of a robot and said if the arts are eliminated than the children will be like the mindless robot she held in her hand – spending all of the school day studying for standardized tests.
“That’s the age when kids discover their gifts and talents,” Rogers said. “They will be studying for the test all of the time and not exercising their creativity.”
Margaret Trunk and Karen Flanders, art teachers at Edison Park Elementary, said an entire generation of children could be deprived of art education if these cuts reach the classroom.
“There will be a whole generation of kids growing up without an adequate, well-rounded education,” Trunk said.
Superintendent James Browder and members of the school board addressed the crowd during the rally on Saturday morning.
Board Member Steven Teuber stressed that the legislature needs to relax statewide standards of the Class Size Amendment to free up money for the district. He said the state should allow districts to meet the requirements on a school basis and not through counting each classroom.
“We need to tell the legislators to stop the politics,” said Teuber. “We need parents, citizens and teachers to tell our politicians enough is enough.”
Last week 3,200 school district employees from St. Lucie County held a similar rally, but the Lee County rally was in the hundreds. On Feb. 28 district employees will take buses to Orlando for a larger rally at UCFArena.