Dear Governor DeSantis,
I read that you have proposed to the state legislature that they designate $1000 bonuses from the ESSER to be given to public school principals and full-time classroom teachers. I admire the desire to honor the very hard work of these dedicated public servants. However, as you honor these employees, it seems you’ve forgotten or overlooked thousands of other public school employees who have been essential in keeping our schools running during the pandemic.
Consider the custodians whose work has multiplied as they have installed plexiglass, rearranged rooms and furniture, and who must now follow stringent disinfecting protocols to mitigate the risk of germs spreading on things like desks and door knobs.
Picture classroom para-professionals, especially those who serve our special needs students like my sister-in-law Jennifer. Our paras are invaluable to their teacher partners and to their students. They are paid so little when you consider how greatly they benefit our schools.
Think of the cafeteria workers who reported to work even as students were sent home. Since so many of our families receive free meals through school, they continued preparing and distributing meals to the public last spring when we knew very little about how the virus spreads.
Remember the secretaries and registrars who continually worked at the schools and interacted with the public on behalf of their schools. With the expectation that students return to the classroom as soon as possible — which you called for — but with many district superintendents offering hybrid options online, these employees have had to be invariably flexible as parents have fluctuated (in some cases several times) between having their student(s) in the classroom and pulling them home for virtual learning.
As a final example, please consider the IT professionals serving our public schools. As the pandemic shifted the means of our teaching and learning models entirely to online platforms, these staff members have worked tirelessly to: prepare and distribute laptops; manage a vast, complex and ever-changing inventory; put in work orders and/or fix broken equipment themselves; help teachers and students resolve internet connection issues; help teachers install new software or learn new platforms; and to field calls from students (or their caregivers) who are learning from home, helping them troubleshoot technology issues.
My husband Dennis is a full-time computer micro-technician for Broward County Public Schools. He has worked countless hours of overtime, for which he will not get paid, all to support his staff and students. With his education, skills and experience, he could make much more in the private sector. For almost 10 years, he has happily chosen to make a financial sacrifice so he can “give back” and serve his community. This year, with all the uncertainty, the extreme requirements of flexibility, the mountainous workload, and the often unreasonable or out-of-touch expectations from district administrators, I’ve seen his stress level rise and his passion to serve diminish. He still wants to help, but he feels like he is always behind, will never catch up, does not have the tools and support to succeed, and that he is not doing enough.
With all these stories in mind, can you imagine how it might feel to such dedicated public servants (and their loved ones) when we hear that you hope and plan to honor only principals and teachers with bonuses?
No matter the position, all our public school employees are heroes of this pandemic era. Principals and teachers are absolutely admirable and essential to our schools, but no more so than any of the staff members I have mentioned. No role should be ranked more important than others. No set of employees should be praised and rewarded more than any others who have consistently shown up and worked to keep our schools running.
On behalf of our many wonderful and unsung public school employees, I ask you to reconsider your recommendation regarding the ESSER funds to be used for bonuses. I ask you to consider a more inclusive bonus. If the relief fund does not have the means to honor all of our public school employees, please consider a different act that would be both equitable and generous.
Rev. Corrie Montoya