Public school teachers protested around Hillsborough County on Wednesday as state lawmakers neared a Friday vote on a proposed budget that would cut education funding, including teacher salaries.
"People here are so frustrated — teachers and parents alike — because it doesn't appear that anyone in Tallahassee is listening," said Jean Clements, head of the Hillsborough County teachers union and one of the organizers of protests at Highwoods Preserve and on Dale Mabry Highway and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The Legislature is poised to vote Friday on a roughly $70 billion spending plan that includes a pay cut of 3 percent for teachers, plus a requirement that they contribute 3 percent of their salary toward their future retirement benefits, if they are part of the Florida Retirement System.
"Is it something that any one of us likes? No, it's not," said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, Senate budget chief for K-12 schools. "It's an exceedingly difficult budget year."
The proposed 2011-2012 budget reduces money K-12 public school districts receive per student by nearly 8 percent on average statewide. In Hillsborough, that's a loss of $545.45 per student, or 7.96 percent. Pasco loses $588.59 per student, or 8.49 percent, and Pinellas loses $538.05 or 7.92 percent.
"We will not be able to sustain the quality of education we have now, much less that we want to have, with these kinds of cuts," Clements said.
It's not really an 8 percent cut for school districts. It's a 1.22 percent cut, Simmons said.
That's because lawmakers are reducing what districts would have to spend on teachers' future retirement benefits.