Students stage walkout to support teachers
Students walked out of their second period class to protest the school district's refusal to honor teacher's step increase in pay.
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There were more empty desks than usual in second period today, when over a hundred Robinson students walked out of class at 8:45 a.m. in order to protest the School District of Hillsborough County’s recent decision to withhold teacher raises. In the past, qualifying teachers have received a $4,000 step increase every fourth year of teaching, but that has been cut out of the county’s budget for financial reasons.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m very proud of my students for asserting their first amendment rights and I’m very proud of them for supporting their teachers.” Principal Robert Bhoolai said. “Although this isn’t a formal lesson like the math and sciences, this is a civics lesson. This is a lesson of civic engagement, they are aware of what is going on with the district.”
Bhoolai and other administrators stood idly and respectfully as the students swarmed the courtyard from 8:45 until 9:05, but did make students return to class after the 20-minute time period.
Along with Robinson, Alonso, Sickles, Freedom and Jefferson all held walkouts today as well, urging students to dress in black as a symbol of solidarity.
Robinson students paraded the perimeter of the flag pole while holding signs and raised fists; many students also taped red duct tape over their mouths as a form of protest.
“It’s really not fair what they’re doing to the teachers at this school, I mean they put in a lot of work, they should get the raises that they deserve,” Orlea Matson (’18), a strong advocate of the walkout, said. “They’ve taught me so much in the past four years and they’ve taken the time to care about what’s been going on in my life and help me become a better person.”
The district gave employees over $200 million in pay raises and benefits over the past four years, with the money mostly coming from the $100 million grant awarded by the Gates Foundation in 2009 to evaluate how teachers are trained and evaluated. But, now that money has slimmed down and they have had to sacrifice in other types of teacher pay.
In May, the Florida State Legislature passed House Bill 7069, which resulted in a substantial loss of funding for the Hillsborough County school district. The new bill budgeted approximately $7,200 per student for education in the 2017 and 2018 school year, while, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average was $12,509 for the 2013 and 2014 school year. The HB 7069 also impacts Title I funding, which limits the way the district can invest in teachers in the classroom. Hillsborough County is home to 149 schools that fall into the Title 1 category.
Because of the budget cuts, the school district decided to put money elsewhere, like fixing ailing air conditioners, training teachers and investing in up-to-date classroom technology. The county also released a two-page fact sheet explaining why the step-increase cuts were deemed necessary.
“As a district, we have to balance priorities and budgets every year to focus on all aspects of what it takes to help students succeed,” the county released in the statement.
The fact sheet also pointed out that the average pay for a Hillsborough County teacher is now the second-highest in the Tampa Bay Area, behind Sarasota County. But, the step increase was relied on by many teachers and comes off to students as if the county doesn’t care enough about the faculty.
“Teachers deserve a raise because without teachers, we wouldn’t be smart enough to do anything,” Vera Tibben (’19), a student who left class for the protest, said. “Without teachers, teachers wouldn’t be teachers.”
This student-led silent protest occurred throughout the county, starting at Strawberry Crest High School on Tuesday, Nov. 7, where approximately 15 students were disciplined by school administrators. However, as of now, Robinson students are not suffering the same consequences.
“At this point in time, they haven’t actually done anything that would warrant me to discipline them,” Principal Robert Bhoolai said. “However, if they were to break a school rule or do something they’re not supposed to do, they would be suffering the discipline like any other student. They’re still on campus, it is still a school day.”
Protests will continue to occur throughout this week at other high schools around the county and have caught the eye of professional news outlets.
“I have great teachers at this school. They care about me and I care about them,” William Aneiros (’21), an advocate for the protest, said. “I want my teachers to get paid what they deserve.”
Robinson students walked out of second period today in order to protest the district’s refusal to honor teacher’s step increases. Over one hundred students lined the courtyard to silently protest the issue. These walkouts are happening around the county.