School board should return to the classroom

February 19, 2012 

The teacher’s hands were full that January morning.

Her Exceptional Student Education class at Blackburn Elementary School had its share of distractions and interruptions as she patiently settled the kids down so I could read to them for Read Across Manatee.

Her calm was admirable.

The ESE teacher’s job isn’t easy, one few of us could do. Or want to do.

You can’t pay a teacher like that enough. I cannot imagine paying her less.

Yet that’s the predicament in which the ESE teacher and 2,800 of her Manatee County colleagues find themselves after a fractured school board voted 3-2 for a retroactive pay cut and furloughs at Wednesday’s contract impasse hearing.

They knew it was coming, yet it was still a bitter pill to swallow.

Year after year of legislative-mandated funding cuts have battered them and left them struggling to keep up.

Now this.

The words on the red T-shirts teachers wore protesting outside the school district building said it all:

Enough is Enough.

I wonder if the Blackburn ESE teacher was among them.

What exacerbates the situation is a school board at odds with itself.

Months ago, Superintendent Tim McGonegal worked up a plan to cut $11 million that kept teachers’ salary reductions to just 0.5 percent. It looked like it might do the trick.

Nope.

The school board ordered McGonegal to make it $14 million.

Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter were the catalysts and maintained that stance, until they flip-flopped Wednesday night, voting against the very cuts they’d pushed for.

Both cited new data provided by teachers union officials.

Hmmm.

Sounds like a calculated move to dodge the fallout of an unpopular vote.

Indeed, McGonegal called out the pair for “playing politics” -- aren’t they all politicians? -- and the subsequent sniping and finger-pointing made the board look dysfunctional.

It was hardly reassuring for whatever confidence teachers and the public still have in the school board.

Afterward there was talk of “team-building exercises” to build trust among board members.

It’s a little late for that.

Then again, they could all get a lesson in that ESE teacher’s classroom at Blackburn Elementary.

I’m sure she would be happy to remind them what’s at stake here.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 941-745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

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