LEE COUNTY, Fla. — At the Lee County School District's first Bargaining Session of the school year, the room was packed with teachers fighting for higher pay and compensation amid a historic teacher shortage.
The Bargaining Sessions are meant to handle negotiations of employee contracts, job descriptions and salary schedules with the Teachers Association of Lee County (TALC) and the Support Personnel Association of Lee County (SPALC).
Tuesday's Bargaining Session had to be moved to a bigger room to accommodate the dozens of teachers who showed up, wearing red in solidarity and standing silently with signs that spoke for themselves.
"The conversation is different when teachers are present, and so we wanted to be here tonight to make sure we are going to be treated equally at the bargaining table," said Jake Nordby, a TV Production teacher at Bonita Springs High School. "I started teaching in the district 10 years ago, and it's becoming harder and harder to pay rent."
TALC President Kevin Daly said the current offer is about $3,000 more for the 5,700 teachers in the bargaining unit. But with 240 teaching positions still open as of September 2, he said Lee teachers need more.
"There's a staff shortage," Daly said. "That means teachers are covering other classes and have to do extra work. The past few years there has been money put aside for that, and right now that money is gone."
It's a struggle Amanda Blacketer Colucci, a teacher and Fort Myers native, experiences firsthand.
"I'm an English teacher and I have an Algebra Two class because we don't have anyone to fill that position," she said. "I have to teach an algebra class, as an English teacher, on a computer program that our kids don't have access to fully."
The reason for the shortage? Colucci said, "[Lee] County is the lowest average teacher pay in the five Southwest Florida counties."
"At the end of the day, the investment in teacher is an investment in students," Nordby said. "If you don't have the professional teachers, good teachers, in the classroom, it's the students who are suffering."
Kevin Daly said Tuesday night's meeting was just the beginning of TALC's fight. There will be three or four more negotiation sessions before a deal is done, with the next TALC Bargaining Session scheduled for September 18.
Fox 4 reached out the Lee County School District late Tuesday night for comment on an offer, but has not yet heard back. Any response will be posted as soon as possible.