Scott and teachers union meet over grouper dinner — with a little history on the sideby John Kennedy | September 14th, 2012
History was the garnish to plates of grouper served Friday night at the Governor’s Mansion, when Republican Gov. Rick Scott had dinner with a half-dozen representatives of the state’s largest teachers’ union.
Both sides said the closed-door dinner meeting went well, being the first of its kind since Scott took office in January 2011. Florida Education Association President Andy Ford is expected to return for a meeting with Scott next week — this time a more traditional business huddle likely slated for Wednesday in the governor’s office, both sides said.
“I think we can always find opportunity to improve what’s on the books — especially with merit pay,” Ford said, adding, “Tonight was a good first step toward having some dialogue that probably should have happened a long time ago.”
Scott railed against the teachers’ union during his election campaign two years ago, when the FEA was a heavy backer of Scott’s rival, vanquished Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink.
The relationship didn’t get any warmer.
The first bill Scott signed into law as governor recast the way teachers were evaluated — making reviews more dependent on student performance. The legislation has been challenged by the union. The same session, Scott approved a measure that extracted 3 percent payments from public employees in the Florida Retirement System, the bulk of them teachers and other school board employees.
The first state budget Scott signed cut public school funding by $1.3 billion. The second spending plan restored $1 billion — but most school districts have eliminated scores of jobs.
Much of the discussion Friday pivoted around how the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is deployed both for gauging students and teachers, along with Scott and the Republican-ruled Legislature’s push to expand virtual education. The possibility of private school vouchers returning — after they were ruled unconstitutional in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court — wasn’t on the table, Scott said.
“I’m working on this job,” Scott said, when asked why it’s taken so long to meet with FEA representatives. “Remember, as a lawyer, you’re always practicing.”
The Friday night dinner capped a week in which Scott traveled the state on a “listening tour,” meeting with parents, teachers, school superintendents and principals to discuss how Florida can improve its education system. He was in Boca Raton on Tuesday and plans to complete his tour next week in Fort Walton Beach.
“I believe parents ought to have choice, I believe that’s good for them,” Scott said. “I believe in the public school system. I grew up in the public school system. It was good for me. The teachers had a dramatic, positive impact on the my life….Is choice good? Yeah. But let’s make sure we do it the right way. Is competition good? Sure, but let’s make sure we do it the right way.”
After bidding goodnight to Scott at the mansion door, Ford acknowledged he was “shocked” by the reachout from the governor. But he said he welcomed the dialogue. Still, he told reporters, some issues are not up for discussion.
Vouchers? “Not for us. End of story,” Ford said.