Polk County teachers protesting after district denies pay raise

Teachers: It's about more than just money
Posted at 7:46 PM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-24 19:46:12-05

Teachers in Polk County are not going down without a fight.

This evening, educators came out in big numbers, protesting because they did not receive a raise.

Besides money, they say it’s more about respect.

“The frustration is that there has never been a time when so much is being expected from teachers as there is right now,” said Polly Burkhart, who has worked as a teacher in Polk County for more than 30 years.

She said the current state of negotiations has reached a new low.

“The salaries that we are asking for have nothing to do with getting rich. They have to do with putting food on the table and being able to put gas in the car,” she said.

The teacher’s union proposal asked for a 3.4 percent raise across the board — that’s roughly $1,500 extra per teacher.

The district came back to the table with no raise at all.

“That was their offer. We offer you nothing,” said Marianne Capoziello, who is head of the union.

She believes this kind of impasse is exactly what drives the great teachers away.

ABC Action News checked with the state and learned that Polk County pays teachers $46,689, on average. That’s less than the state average.

It’s also less than what teachers are paid in Hillsborough and Pinellas County, but more than Pasco and Hernando.

“They say they want to gain and retain the best and brightest in the classrooms and in their schools, and then they do this,” Capoziello said.

For its part, the district said money is tight because it’s one of the lowest funded districts in the state.

Both sides look forward to a resolution, but it may now take a special magistrate to get there.

Following Tuesday’s protest, teachers plan to pack the board meeting Tuesday night and speak out about the impasse during the public comment section.