Tampa Bay teachers rally at capital for better pay, funding

Education

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds of Polk County teachers boarded charter buses Monday morning and headed to Tallahassee.

They will join educators from all over the state to rally for pay raises and more education funding.

“Enough is enough,” said Polk Education Association President Stephanie Yocum.

She applauded Governor Ron Desantis for his proposal to raise the salary for starting teachers, but said that doesn’t address raises for seasoned teachers, and a lack of funding for schools.

Yocum and hundreds of other teachers wore red and made signs to send a message to lawmakers.

“Polk County is hurting. We’re looking at not being able to give raises this year because we’re so drastically underfunded. I think the pain point has really gotten to people. Enough is enough,” Yocum said.

Yocum said some teachers did back out of attending the rally after a letter Friday from Counsel with the Department of Education, that warned teachers could be fired if they did not report to work.

Sunday evening Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said those threats did not come from her.

“I am a pro-education person. I love all my teachers, all my staff,” Byrd said.

Talking to reporters on Sunday, Byrd hoped to clarify a week riddled with confusion, miscommunication and fears of losing jobs.

“Prior to going to the break, we were prepared. We had been prepared since November for this. It was what happened afterward,” she said.

Originally, Byrd said she was told 600 teachers were taking off for a public education rally in Tallahassee. But when classes resumed from break, she said more than double the number of teachers requested off for Jan. 13, sending administrators scrambling to find suitable substitutes.

Then the Florida Department of Education sent a letter Friday night which was passed on to teachers warning an illegal strike could result in termination. That angered teachers who felt bullied by the state and the administration.

“Will there be any educators that face any retribution yes or no?” asked 8 On Your Side for a third time.

“Not from me. They’re not facing any retribution from me,” answered the superintendent.

With 1,600 teachers expecting to be absent on Monday, Polk County Schools has filled those classrooms with 650 substitute teachers, 450 district staff members alongside school staff and 30 Polk County deputies to help teach in classrooms.

“They all have either bachelors or masters degrees, into the schools not just for safety and security, but to interact all day long with the kids. I think that’s great,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

The sheriff said it will be good for students to have a positive interaction with those deputies and joked that it will be a great opportunity for recruitment as well.

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