Manatee parents rally in support of teachers

cnudi@bradenton.comMay 20, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County School Board members attending a budget workshop Monday were greeted by a rally of parents showing appreciation for teachers.

As many as 100 parents, children and others gathered to rally their support for the district's teachers who have been notified their contracts aren't being renewed.

Many held signs, including ones that read:

"11% paycut = bankruptcy = I lost my home"

"We didn't mismanage funds, you did!!!"

According to a rally organizer, the Wednesday night auto-phone message about layoffs from School Superintendent Rick Mills spurred them to call for community support of the teachers.

"I was horrified by the tone of that," said Christine Fioritto-Sket. "To mention having too many teachers and students not getting any better in the same sentence was an insult to our teachers."

The rally started at 3:15 p.m., with plans to go until 4 p.m. in front of the Manatee School District building, 215 Manatee Ave. W.

Drivers were honking their horns in support of the rally.

Fioritto-Sket, who had one child graduate from Braden River High School and two attending Rowlett Elementary School, was referring to the part of the message where Mills said: ". . . we have hired so many teachers that our district's class sizes are lower than the state's Class-Size Amendment requires and our academic performance is still lagging behind most of the state."

Although, Mills tied hiring extra teachers to "a lack of fiscal discipline and controls" in the previous sentence, Fioritto-Sket said he may have just used the wrong words and did not intend to slight the educators.

Many parents have called her to say they wanted to show they support the teachers, she said.

Tracey Rosa, another rally organizer, emphasized the message is love for the teachers and any signs participants bring should reflect that message.

"They can say something like, 'We Love You,' or 'We Appreciate You,' or 'We Stand By You,' " said Rosa, who has two children at Rowlett. "What does negative messages teach our kids?"

Mills said he also appreciates and values the teachers.

"My wife's a teacher," he said. "I've visited 31 schools (since he was hired about two months ago) and the first thing I tell them is I'm so proud of them and they are the foundation of instruction in this district."

But the prospect of laying off teachers has many parents worried about the quality of instruction their children will receive.

Karen Riley-Love, who has two children at Anna Maria Elementary School, said she was concerned about her child's fourth-grade teacher who may be let go.

"The school board needs to look at administration cuts as well as teacher cuts," Riley-Love said. "Our children should not have to pay for mismanagement."

She said she plans to do what ever it takes to get her message to the school district.

Riley-Love said she plans on attending the rally and also e-mail and call school board members.

"I'm not going to let these highly effective teachers be lost," she said.

The school district will provide the exact number of teachers and staff whose contracts will not be renewed for the 2013-14 school year and what schools will be affected early this week.

Mills has said he will present the district plan for next year's budget at the school board workshop.

The new budget will be based on revenues of just under $311 million, with $22.4 million coming as a direct allocation from the state for teacher pay raises.

Without state funding, the proposed budget would be the same as last year's.

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