More than 350 people came to tonight’s Polk County School Board meeting at the Bartow High School auditorium, and many voiced support for higher teacher pay.

The first speaker from the pubic tonight was Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz. He and former Mayor Howard Wiggs both spoke in support of Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

Byrd had been criticized by teachers earlier this month after her staff forwarded to school district employees an email from a state Department of Education lawyer saying teachers could be fired if they missed work en masse to participate in a rally in Tallahassee. That email came to teachers around 9:30 on the Friday night before the Monday when hundreds were scheduled to board buses at 6:30 a.m. to attend the rally.

Byrd later apologized, saying she should have explained why she sought counsel from the state, why she was forwarding the email, and explaining that teachers would not be fired for missing school for the rally.

Just before Tuesday’s School Board meeting, Byrd told reporters that she’d be listening closely to what the teachers had to say:

“We are going to listen to them carefully, and that we can take that information and then at a later date we can work with our teachers, our union, our district staff to make sure we can do some of the things to make their jobs a lot more palatable and easier for them. We are going to listen to them tonight. We are going to listen to them in the future, and how we can help them more.”

Tuesday’s meeting was moved from the school district office to the much larger Bartow High School auditorium to accommodate the large crowd of teachers and supporters expected to attend.

Teacher comments at the meeting, quoted in news reports:

Lisa Marini-Scherer, a teacher at Lakeland High School: “Year after year, I watch benefits decrease and workloads increase,” said “Instead of paying six percent in the teacher retirement, it’s only three. We have to pay the other three.” | Bay News 9

She continued: “Two years ago my teenage daughter told me she wanted to be a teacher and I told her ‘no.’ And she asked me why and I told her she wouldn’t be able to support herself on a teacher’s salary.”

Amy Lashkajani, a math teacher at Southwest Middle School: “I honestly believe everybody’s heart is in the right place, but, sometimes people are so far removed from the classrooms they need to hear the teachers. “You should find a new job if you are not going to advocate for us.” | ABC Action News

Carl Lehning, a math teacher at Auburndale High School: “Teaching in the classroom has become such a small part of what we actually do, and that’s the problem is that you have to worry about all kinds of other things except the teaching.” | Fox 13 News

Polk Education Association, the teachers’ union, is pushing for a vote on the November 2020 election ballot to allow a one-mil property tax increase to enhance education funding and teacher salaries.

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