Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sunshine State Chain-Yankers

It might have seemed like an April Fool's joke to some, but the teachers down in Hillsborough County Florida aren't laughing:
For Hillsborough County's 14,500 teachers, Wednesday felt a little more like April Fools Day than the week before Christmas.

Beginning at 6 a.m., this exciting nugget aired on Bay News 9, on the station's Web site and on at least two radio stations:

"Hillsborough County teachers get bonus."

The cable news channel reported that the county's teachers would get "a little extra for Christmas."

The School Board, the station said, okayed the extra holiday pay.

"Hillsborough County teachers will receive their 10 percent bonus on Friday before leaving for the holiday break."

It sounded too good to be true.

And it was.

No, the School Board did not okay teacher Christmas bonuses. The only ones getting extra pay on Friday would be the 392 national board-certified teachers who will get an extra $4,801 from the state.

For most teachers, a 10 percent holiday bonus would have meant a check between $3,000 and $4,000 - plenty to finish off their Christmas shopping.

"I thought, "Oh my gosh, a bonus!"' said Alexander Elementary first-grade teacher Dina Perez, who saw the story on Bay News 9. "I've been teaching 28 years, and we've never had a bonus. I was on cloud nine."

Teachers began calling and e-mailing district administrators and union officials. Word even spread to the district's human resources director, who was returning home to Tampa from New York City aboard a train.

"The word was going rampant through all the schools," said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

A teacher called Clements on her cell phone.

The teacher said, "Everybody is dying to know about the bonus,' " Clements recalled. "What? What? "The bonus.' I said, whose bonus?"

The Christmas bonus, the teacher replied.

"We don't get a Christmas bonus," Clements said. "What the hell are you talking about?"

By 10 a.m., the district's communications officer, Stephen Hegarty, called the station to note the error.

Hegarty dashed off an e-mail to all schools to clarify the bonuses.

"The problem is that Bay News 9 reported that teachers would get the bonus, which many interpreted to mean all teachers," he wrote. "Sorry, but that's just not true."
Oops. I guess mistakes happen to everyone.

I almost feel sorry for the Unnamed Staffer at the television station who no doubt got a royal "chewing" over this one.

In my 14 years in the classroom, I've never even heard of public school teachers getting a "Christmas Bonus." I don't think that this happens here in California, but I wonder if the practice is common in other parts of the country?
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