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Dade Union Official Expresses Frustrations With Reforms

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Fed up with what they say are increasing demands on their time and few rewards, members of the United Teachers of Dade in Dade County, Fla., voted overwhelmingly last month to ask for a moratorium on all district and state reform efforts.

Assistant Editor Ann Bradley talked about the vote with Pat L. Tornillo Jr., the executive vice president of the union.

Q.
Your union has made a name for itself for supporting school reform. What prompted this change?

A.
It's not a change. What the teachers in Dade County are saying is that they are very tired and they are frustrated and angry about a number of things. The first thing they are tired about is the aftermath of [Hurricane] Andrew. I don't think everyone really understands the depth of the effect that Andrew had on everyone in Dade County--including teachers. The psychological impact is still being felt. They're just trying to recover.

Number two, I think the teachers of Dade County feel that a lot of promises have been made by the Florida legislature with regard to funding the accountability law [known as Blueprint 2000] that decentralized every school in Florida with shared-decisionmaking councils of parents and teachers.

As of this hour, this minute, the legislature has failed to put any money into Blueprint 2000--money for training, not just teachers but parents, and to coordinate with businessmen in terms of how everyone will work together. It has failed to provide money for technology, for release time so that people can meet to develop the school-improvement plans that have to be done.

That was the purpose of the moratorium--teachers are being asked to do more and more with less and less.

Q.
What does the vote actually mean? Are teachers no longer participating in school-based management and other reforms?

A.
We have not abandoned school-based management and shared decision-making, and we have Project Phoenix that we're trying to do to resurrect schools in the south end of the county [that were damaged by the hurricane]. All we're saying is that we need some breathing room. Please stop and give us a chance to breathe, at least for the rest of the school year. We didn't tell [teachers] that they should not participate.

Q.
What has the response been there?

A.
Last Wednesday, we got good support from the Dade County school board. All new programs have to be voluntary. It's not that we're asking teachers to be insubordinate or anything. The chairman of our board said they understand that teachers are very tired.

Q.
Wasn't this also done to send a message as you head into serious contract negotiations? How long has it been since teachers have had a raise?

A.
That is correct. Two years. They're just saying they can't keep doing this and get nothing for it and continue to be held more accountable. Under Blueprint 2000, they would be. Over the past two years, it's been in the planning stages. Now it's at the point where school advisory councils are formed and the school has to develop an improvement plan that needs to be submitted to the state for their approval. The teachers are saying, ... "When do we do this?''

They don't want to be paid per hour, but we're saying, "When do we get rewarded for all the effort already put in in Dade County?'' Teachers have put their own time in. How long can you do that without somebody saying, "You did a good job and we're going to reward you''? Where's the incentive?

Q.
But hasn't Florida had terrible budget problems?

A.
The state had a terrible budget problem only because the Florida legislature refuses to address tax reform. Florida is still one of these states that has the ability to tax, but not the will. We are in the third year of cuts in education. We don't know what will happen this session, but we're operating at 1989 levels.

Q.
Despite the moratorium vote, teachers participated recently in the Project Phoenix conference [which encouraged teams to develop focuses for their schools]. Why is that?

A.
They attended. I have talked to enough of them since then and they can't get enthusiastic about it. That's one of the things we do need to get enthusiastic about, rebuilding those schools.

Dade County may be reflective of the mood nationally. Teachers are getting a little tired of rhetoric. I don't think they see anything happening to support [reform], really.

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