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Sunday, Nov 19, 2017
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Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can't win this one

When it comes to your principles, there is no shame in putting up a fight.

You can fight City Hall, and you can fight the power. According to the song, you can fight the law. You can even fight the good fight, whatever that means.

But you cannot fight reality. Not if you want to win.

And I'm afraid that's what Hillsborough County teachers are doing right now.

If you haven't followed recent headlines, educators in Hillsborough are pounding their desks over the news that the school district will not come through with scheduled pay raises for thousands of teachers.

And I don't blame the teachers for feeling betrayed.

Educators in Florida are already paid somewhere between poorly and horribly, depending on which study you cite. And if the proposed pay raise wasn't guaranteed by a contract, it was certainly agreed to and pledged by district administrators a few years ago.

Put in the same situation, most of us would be just as angry. But here's where reality spoils the fight: The Hillsborough County school system is in a financial meltdown. Basic necessities, such as air conditioning repairs, are being ignored because the district is having to cut so many corners.

You may recall that Hillsborough leaders enthusiastically joined forces with the Gates Foundation a few years ago, thinking it would make them national innovators. Turns out, the program was largely untenable and its costs were enormous. And now the bills are coming due.

Rank-and-file teachers shouldn't have to pay for that miscalculation, but neither should students. And that brings us to the current impasse, and some likely fireworks at today's School Board meeting.

I'm not saying teachers should remain quiet. They have every right to pepper School Board members with tough questions. I hope they do, because this School Board is among the most hapless imaginable.

But I also think the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association's vote to "work the contract'' for one week later this month is a mistake. (Working the contract means teachers will put in a normal work day, but will not stay late for parent conferences, grade papers at home or attend after-school functions.)

Because teachers are not legally permitted to strike, vowing to work the contract is one of the few tangible ways they have to voice their displeasure. But, really, what good does it do?

The school district certainly knows union members are angry. And teachers already have the sympathy and support of many parents and students. At this point, teachers are better off occupying the moral high ground and continuing to put students first.

Because this is likely to get uglier before it gets better.

Parents are already fleeing to charter schools at an alarming rate in Hillsborough, and a protracted war between teachers and district leaders will not make families feel better about traditional public schools. Instead of worrying about today's salaries, teachers should ponder a future world with more charters and even lower pay.

The smarter move for teachers is to acknowledge the district is hurting instead of pointing out every misspent dollar, as if it will miraculously add up to a $17 million windfall needed for raises.

The fight, in some ways, is for long-term survival.

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