Overworked and underpaid: Polk County teachers bring fight for funding to school board

Hundreds of Polk County teachers showed up at Tuesday's school board meeting to send a clear message: they have had enough.

Riding the momentum from rallies in Tallahassee, educators packed Bartow High School's auditorium, cheering on their colleagues who told school board members about their high workload and low salaries.

“I have over 165 kids that I’m responsible for for the school year. [It’s] physically impossible, mathematically impossible for me to be able to cater to all of those kids, grade papers without using time outside of my contact hours,” said English teacher Lisa Marini-Scherer. “It’s just expected and it shouldn’t be.”

Teachers at the meeting told the school board it needs to push the state for more funding.

“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,” said Carl Lehning, a mathematics teacher at Auburndale High School.

Some said the superintendent isn’t doing enough to support teachers’ concerns after she forwarded an email from the state threatening their jobs if they rallied at the capitol.

“I made a mistake on that. I gave an apology for them with that one and I’ve already issued that to them, and that’s why we’re going to listen to them tonight,” said Polk County Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. “We’re going to listen very carefully and then we can take that information, and then at a later date we can work with our teachers, our union, our district staff.”

But teachers said they want to make sure their message sticks.

“I’m really glad that the union and the teachers are not giving up. We’re not,” said Marini-Scherer.