TAMPA (WFLA) – University of South Florida students, local teachers and supporters held a rally to save the USF College of Education undergraduate program.
University officials say changes are needed at the college because of declining enrollment and a budget cut of $6.8M over two years.
Protesters holding signs and chanting by the main entrance to campus on Fowler Avenue told 8 On Your Side they worry what proposed changes will mean for preparing students to become teachers in Tampa Bay and beyond.
“When educators are under attack what do we do, stand up fight back,” the group shouted.
Sarah Kunis said she went back and forth on whether to become an educator.
“I actually didn’t want to be a teacher at first and the USF College of Ed kept drawing me back,” she said.
Now a third grade teacher for Hillsborough County Public Schools, she joined the group of demonstrators urging USF to stop the proposed changes to the College of Education.
“The passion’s there, the need is there and I think that can help change a lot of minds,” Kunis said.
Before the rally, USF sent 8 On Your Side a statement that reads in part:
“We recognize that in addition to research in the field of education, USF plays a key role in teacher preparation and certification for our region and in providing master’s and doctoral degree programs to support the development of counselors, principals, superintendents and other K-12 leadership positions. While changes are needed at USF after a 63% drop in the college’s undergraduate enrollment over the past decade, we intend to continue offering carefully selected undergraduate degrees in education, though likely fewer than the nine baccalaureate degrees, 15 majors, five minors and 18 concentrations currently available.”
Hillsborough County Public Schools teacher of 17 years Ryan Haczynski said he went to the rally to show support for up and coming teachers. He said those unhappy with USF’s plan should direct their dissatisfaction at state lawmakers.
“No one is calling out the Florida legislature,” Haczynski said. “They are directly responsible for the funding levels and this has exacerbated the teacher shortage.”
Newly elected Hillsborough School Board Member Nadia Combs told 8 On Your Side at the rally that her alma mater should try to save money with cuts to other colleges and programs.
“The idea that we’re gonna cut the program that ends up serving so many students in Hillsborough County Schools, I’m here to fight for that program because we get quality educators,” Combs said.
Kunis said she shares those same concerns what cuts to her college would mean for the community.
“We need the highly educated teachers in order to help shape the generations to come,” she said.
USF President Steve Currall, Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Wilcox and Interim Dean of the College of Education Judith Ponticell met Friday with several Tampa Bay region district superintendents.
“Let us reiterate that no final decisions have been made regarding the College of Education,” the statement from USF said. “Meetings like the one today, and many others that Interim Dean Judith Ponticell continues to participate in with school superintendents, faculty, staff, students and community members, serve as critical opportunities to share ideas and listen to input as we reimagine our education programs during a period of significant budget challenges.”
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