Parents, students rally in support of Manatee teachers

cnudi@bradenton.comMay 21, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Less than an hour before a scheduled school board budget workshop, parents and their children, along with community supporters, flanked the doorway to the Manatee County School District administrative offices Monday chanting support for teachers.

"I don't know what you've been told, but teacher morale is very low. Sound off, 1,2,3,4," the crowd reverberated under the canopy as it was repeated over and over while school board members and district officials arrived for the workshop.

The rally was organized quickly after teachers began getting notices their contracts were not being renewed. A total of 182 Manatee County teachers lost their jobs Monday among 282 district positions eliminated.

The school board needs $14.8 million in spending cuts to balance its budget and have enough money in reserves to satisfy state requirements next year.

Picketer Robert Gilmartin said cutting administrators makes more sense than terminating teachers.

"It's all an administrative problem," said Gilmartin, a custodian at Palmetto Elementary School and Palmetto High School for 13 years before retiring,

"They should sell this building," he said, pointing to the school district administrative offices. "It's half empty."

Robert Moates, a Lakewood Ranch High School teacher, said seeing the support for teachers was "phenomenal."

In a phone message to parents and teachers last week, Superintendent Rick Mills said personnel cuts were needed because district class sizes were too small, but Moates said he is not convinced that was the reason.

Moates said Manatee County has the largest class sizes in the Tampa Bay area.

"If they're just slashing payroll to cut expenses, then just say that," Moates said.

More than 100 rally participants lined the sidewalk along Manatee Avenue in front of the Manatee County School District building waving signs and chanting slogans to show support for teachers.

The rally included parents and students from elementary schools such as Anna Maria, Ballard, Oneco, Orange Ridge, Rowlett and Palmetto High.

Most picketers held colorful posters with slogans of ardent support:

"1-2-3-4, WE COULD NOT LOVE OUR TEACHERS MORE"

"I LOVE MRS. MCDONOUGH."

"HONK FOR TEACHERS!"

Even elementary students were vocal.

"I'm here to support our teachers," said Grant Rigney, an 8-year-old second-grader at Rowlett Elementary School.

Grant held a sign that read: "Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning."

Grant was with 5-year-old brother, Garrison, a kindergarten student at Rowlett, and his mother, Alisha Rigney.

"We love our teachers and don't want to see any of them get lost," Rigney said. "My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are teachers and I know most teachers go above and beyond for their students."

Rigney said she knows the school district needs to balance the budget, and does not know where cuts can be made.

"Do anything but cut teachers," she said. "Maybe take it from administration pay."

At the budget workshop, Mills said the decision not renew the 182 teacher contracts, along with laying off 100 non-instructional staff, was based on a preliminary Transitional Task Force report established to help the school board recover from several managerial missteps over the last few years.

Catherine Timmons said she does not think teacher cuts are the answer to fixing the school financial crisis.

"I don't know what the answer is," said Timmons, who has two children in Rowlett Elementary, "but I don't see putting more students in the classroom as the answer."

-- Columnist Vin Mannix contributed to this report

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