At least some teachers at every St. Johns County school participate in protest over pay, union says

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County teachers protested on Wednesday over pay.

Dozens of teachers gathered before and after school and pledged to only work the hours they were paid for, nothing more.

The protest stems from a contract dispute.

Contract talks between the district and the teachers union broke down in November over pay raises after the vast majority of teachers said the modest raise the district was offering wasn’t enough.

MORE: In historic first, St. Johns County teachers vote down pay raise because it wasn’t enough

Wearing red, groups of teachers gathered at R.B. Hunt Elementary, Osceola Elementary, Gamble Rodgers Middle School and dozens of other schools.

The teachers who participated came together and pledged to work only the 7.5 hours they are paid for in their contract.

“Teachers have stayed silent long enough. We give and we give,” associate teacher Bonny Furlong said. “When I first started I was here until 6 and 7 when I had my own classroom. I actually took a step back and now am just an associate teacher, because that was what was necessary for me to be able to prioritize my family and actually leave work at a decent time. Even still staying here, well beyond my contract hours. I’m just so proud of my county and teachers coming together and saying enough is enough.”

Teachers walked in together, and they walked out together at the same time. It was their form of protest. Striking in Florida is illegal for teachers.

Teachers union president Michelle Dillon said at least some teachers participated in the protest at all 48 schools in the district.

“I’ve heard from administrators in our county saying way to go Michelle, way to go teachers. So I feel really good about today. And I know that our teachers carried out this effort in a positive, professional manner,” Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association, said.

The protest got the support of Chris Ellis who is the father of students at Osceola Elementary.

“They’re underpaid. Teachers are way underpaid. Not just in St. Johns County but in the entire state of Florida. Especially with everything they have to put up with,” Ellis said.

It will be back to usual business on Thursday, but teachers are planning to do the same thing two more school days next week and increase the number of “work to contract” days each week after that.

Meanwhile, contract negotiations are moving forward.

The district and union have agreed on a mediator to help with negotiations and a hearing is expected next month.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wants an extra $200 million annually toward teacher salary increases, bringing the yearly total to $1 billion. But he also proposed new laws that some say target teachers unions.

Dillon applauded the push by DeSantis to increase teacher pay around the state, but also addressed two claims made by the Florida governor.

During a news conference at a Jacksonville charter school on Monday, DeSantis proposed new legislation that would put an end to automatic paycheck deductions for teachers union dues, adding that teachers unions “don’t even tell you how much is being deducted, you know, that’s not right.”

“It’s false,” Dillon said. “Let’s address the first thing, to say that teachers are not aware of how much their dues are, can’t read a form and sign it properly, is insulting. They know exactly how much dues are, they can join if they want to, it’s a voluntary membership.”

DeSantis also addressed pay for teachers union leaders on Monday.

“I also believe that if you’re somebody that’s working for a school union, you should not make any more than what the highest paid teacher is making. You have these people making huge amounts of money and the teachers are making half of that amount of money. How is that fair?” DeSantis said.

Dillion said she makes the salary as a teacher.

“As for the salary of union leaders, I can speak for myself, I make exactly what a classroom teacher makes. I have the same negotiated salary, I have to attain the same certifications and attend the same trainings,” Dillon said.

Dillion acknowledged that every union is different when it comes to compensation, but those terms are voted on by union members.

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