Puerto rico government

Thousands of teachers in Puerto Rico protest for higher salaries

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Thousands of teachers across Puerto Rico walked out of their classrooms and took to the streets Friday to demand higher salaries, better working conditions and better pensions amid a of economic crisis.

Several schools were completely without teachers as protesters gathered in the capital city of San Juan and other towns, including Mayaguez and Aguada, and marched, cheered and banged pots as supporters honked their horns as they passed.

“We are tired, tired of not being recognized,” said Joalice Santiago, 34, who teaches Spanish and science to fourth and fifth graders. “It’s time for teachers to stand up and explain to the world the value of their profession.”

She said she teaches after school to supplement her salary and many teachers in Puerto Rico are forced to work two or three jobs to make ends meet as the cost of food, electricity and the water is rising as the island struggles to emerge from bankruptcy and tries to recover from Hurricane Maria and a series of strong earthquakes.

The protest is the largest so far this week, with Puerto Rico‘s Department of Education announcing on Thursday that some 5,000 teachers, or about 25% of those working in public schools, were absent. On Friday, officials said more than 70% of teachers were absent. Alexis Ramos, a spokesman for the education department, said no official was immediately available for comment.

The protests come just days after a federal board of control that oversees Puerto Rico‘s finances and the United States’ emergence from bankruptcy approved a tax plan that contains pay increases for teachers and other public employees. Teachers would see an average increase of 27% over what they did in fiscal year 2019. They would receive half of that increase on July 1, with the other half tied to the completion of a payroll and attendance system and maintaining student attendance.

The Puerto Rico Teachers Association has rejected the move, saying it only raises base salaries to $2,220 a month instead of the $3,500 it is asking for.

“Bankruptcy can no longer be used as an excuse,” the association said. “Teachers no longer want to be made invisible or to be offered crumbs, but rather a concrete solution that gives them a better quality of life.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi said his administration respects the right to free speech and pledged his administration is still working to secure even higher raises for all public servants.

“This fight is not over,” he said, but cautioned that some responsibilities cannot be ignored. “Our students need the guarantee of adequate face-to-face teaching more than ever, and for that, they need their teachers in the classroom.”

Santiago said teachers at his school protested earlier this week before the school bell rang, but on Friday they all closed their classrooms to join the protest with the principal’s support. She noted that many teachers across the island are also forced to paint their own classrooms or buy fans because the government is not providing enough resources.

“It’s hard,” she said. “The Governor has much to think about…much to do.”

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