Brevard rallies for teachers
THE STATE of Florida's education system has seen an abysmal number of budget cuts. Of course, it's the teachers and students who bear the brunt of this educational austerity, with class sizes increasing while teacher salaries stagnate or decrease.
But Brevard Federation of Teachers (BFT) and their supporters aren't taking this assault lying down. Activists from Occupy Melbourne and the BFT collaborated with the Melbourne branch of the International Socialist Organization to bring dozens of protestors together to rally on May 7 in favor of a pay raise for all Brevard teachers.
The rally took place outside of the school board building in Viera, Fla. Inside, the BFT defended its budget proposal for the 2012-2013 school year, which would have added no new cost to the district and would have increased teachers' pay.
Outside, activists demonstrated--waving flags and Occupy signs displaying pro-union and pro-teacher slogans. Among them was Warren, a veteran labor supporter who has stood by unions since the 1960s, who was adamant about the significance of union involvement. "The only way democracy can survive is if the interests of the workers are represented," he stated. "All free nations have labor unions--totalitarian countries don't."
He cited the fact that Florida, one of the most populous states in the U.S., is 50th in terms of education budget and 47th in teacher wages. "You can cross over into Georgia and make $20,000 more as a teacher," he told me. "It's like a third world country here."
Matt, another activist, echoed that sentiment. "It's a top-down system, that's the biggest problem," he said. "Teachers are underpaid, overworked, and put in charge of massive classes. Meanwhile they're too worried with their economic situation to focus on teaching."
Matt saw a big part of the problem in the fact that there are always more kids enrolled each year, and always less money with which to educate them. Never mind salary, he said--what about providing the tools and environment to teach effectively? How are teachers expected to be fully committed to the job of educating under austerity?
Despite the support shown for the teachers, the BFT's proposal was sadly shot down by the school board in favor of the district's plan, which allows teachers' pay to stagnate in the coming years, despite their already abysmal salaries.
This is an issue that the burgeoning activist element in Central Florida can and should take on, given that the entire population affected. Without a strong educational establishment capable of responding to the needs of teachers and students, the region faces little prospect for future prosperity.
The people of Brevard county have a great opportunity to rally together--bringing together unions and grassroots organizations over the question of school budgets and teacher salaries arises. While this decision is a minor defeat for the BFT and other unions in the short term, the campaign for Brevard teachers and the rest of Central Florida's 99 percent has only just begun.