Teachers lash out at board meeting

Tempers flare over the superintendent's order to teach an extra class each day.

Published February 14, 2007

TAMPA - The high school teachers arrived at the School Board meeting Tuesday frustrated and intent upon airing a grievance.

They'd been ordered to teach 300 minutes a day, which would add another class to high school teachers' days.

After three-plus hours of waiting for their chance to talk, their frustration wouldn't fit neatly into the two minutes allowed them for public comment.

The nearly 20 teachers' discontent turned to outrage and shouts, telling the School Board how they felt.

"That's disrespectful," Freedom High teacher Kerstin Daum-Schultz shouted. "We deserve that respect."

Their turn to speak had come at the close of the meeting, after School Board unanimously adopted a new policy giving parents the chance to declare some clubs off-limits for their children.

This change came after a controversy last year over the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance at Newsome High School.

In December, School Board members rejected the concept of requiring students to get written permission from parents in order to join a club at school.

The new policy asks parents to tell the school what clubs the child cannot join. Parents can limit the number of clubs students join, as well as access to specific groups.

But clubs weren't what teachers wanted to debate.

The teachers had come to object to superintendent MaryEllen Elia's recent decision to force high school instructors to teach an additional 30 to 50 minutes each day, the equivalent of an extra class period, in the next school year. That is requiring wholesale schedule changes at some schools.

The teachers said it's burdensome, won't work, and no one consulted them before deciding to do it. Five representatives from King, Armwood, Freedom and Gaither high schools signed up to speak. They predicted dumbed-down classes, a drop in club sponsorship and burnout.

Co-workers supported them in the audience. After their speaking time was cut off, the teachers stormed out.

As Armwood teacher Tony Irovando said, "They have to squeeze blood from a rock at this point," trying to get more out of high school teachers.

Board member Candy Olson met the teachers in the lobby. She wanted them to hear from the superintendent.

Elia said the district needed to add the time to reduce the need to hire more teachers to meet class size limits, potentially saving up to $28 million.

At the back of the room, the teachers shrugged off her comments. When Elia finished her lengthy response, Armwood teacher Jim Goeb shouted up to her on the dais: "We don't believe you for a minute. ... Good night."

As the meeting adjourned, concerned School Board members rushed up to teachers to talk one on one.

Board member Doretha Edgecomb said she was surprised at how frustrations had boiled over.

"All of us listened," she said. "Our nonresponse is by no means an indication that we haven't listened and internalized what they are saying."

Elia said she stands by her decision to increase the teaching day, which does not require a School Board vote. She noted that a committee is working on issues involving the change.

The teacher outburst overshadowed the other School Board actions, including the new policy allowing parents to declare certain school clubs off-limits to their children.

Schools plan to send the form home in newsletters, make it available on line and remind parents about their responsibility at every opportunity.

"We can't force them to be involved in the process," said Lewis Brinson, assistant superintendent for administration. "But we are encouraging them."

The board also approved creating the Florida Autism Charter School of Excellence to serve Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties. The main campus will be based in Hillsborough, with satellites in the others. The charter school expects to start with 200 students next year and grow to 600 over five years.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813 226-3400.

Fast Facts:


New principal appointments

Hammond Elementary (new school): Karen Zilenski, currently principal at Essrig Elementary.

Summerfield Crossings Elementary (new school): Eric Cantrell, currently principal at Wimauma Elementary.

Jackson Elementary: Dora Madison, currently assistant principal at Summerfield Elementary.

Principals on the move

Plant High: Losing principal Eric Bergholm to a new position, general director for advanced academic access.

Wharton High: Losing principal George Gaffney. He'll oversee schools in the region north of Tampa.