Polk teachers protest 0% pay increase

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Polly Burkhart's life's work has been spent in classrooms. But after 32 years of educating Polk County kids, she feels her bosses at the school board still don't understand the daily grind she and her colleagues endure.

"The salaries we're asking for have nothing to do with getting rich. They have to do with putting food on the table. They have to do with putting gas in your car," Burkhart said Tuesday.

The Polk County Education Association asked the board to include a 3.4 percent raise for teachers in its budget. They say the board snubbed them by walking away from negotiations and declaring an impasse.

"That was their offer. We offer you nothing," Polk Education Association President Marianne Capoziello said Tuesday.

Capoziello says the move is a slap in the face.

"They continually budget everything and continue to spend money and then try to fund salaries with what's leftover," she said.

A district spokesperson says the board is pursuing mediation with the teachers' union. They say the proposed raise would cost the district more than $10 million in recurring costs. Board member Billy Townsend says he disagrees with the past board's decision to declare an impasse.

"I think it sends a terrible message at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to recruit and retain teachers," he said Tuesday.

Seasoned educators couldn't agree more.

"I would think by this point in my career that things would have gotten so much better for teachers. And I'm hugely disappointed that it's really gone the other way," Burkhart said.

Dozens of teachers are protesting the school district's impasse ahead of Tuesday evening's board meeting. They will have to wait until the end of the meeting to voice their opinions during the meeting's public comment section.