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Teachers’ union, state in skirmish over merit pay bill

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A preliminary round in a larger fight over legislation that rewrote how teachers are paid and retained across Florida was waged Wednesday — with the state’s largest teachers’ union seeking to block a proposed Education Department rule  on evaluating educators.

The Florida Education Association argued before Administrative Law Judge John Vanlaningham that the state agency has exceeded its authority with how it wants school districts to evaluate teachers for merit pay.

In the complaint, the FEA and two teachers, Karen Peek and Beth Weatherstone, say the proposed “unlawfully sets a few DOE bureaucrats up to interpret, interpolate, and extrapolate the meaning of the extensive jargon it includes.”

State education officials defend the proposal as “not arbitrary or capricious.” They also say the proposed rule is written in the common language of the education community. It does not violate the statute created by the 2011 legislation, SB 736, they add.

The measure eliminating longtern contracts for new hires and linking teacher salaries to student performance was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor, who had been opposed by the FEA in his 2010 campaign against Democrat Alex Sink, said the new law would help improve student and teacher performance, and help create jobs by making Florida more attractive to businesses.

Democrats condemned the legislation for tying teachers’ pay increases to how students do on standardized tests.

They warned it will require county school boards to divert dwindling school dollars to more testing in elective fields where such tests often are not currently administered.

Along with challenging the proposed rule for evaluating teachers, the FEA last September sued to have the new law thrown out as an unconstitutional restriction on the union’s right to collective bargaining.

The case possibly could go to trial this summer before Leon County Circuit Judge James Shelfer.

 

Teachers union says new merit pay law violates constitution

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Florida Education Association sued Wednesday to overturn the new state law that ends teacher tenure and introduces merit pay based in large part on how students perform on standardized tests.

The state’s largest teachers’ union said the measure — approved by the Republican-ruled Legislature and the first bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott — violates constitutional collective bargaining guarantees. Employment terms are to be decided by negotiations between teachers and school districts — not by state lawmakers, said Ron Meyer, attorney for the FEA, which filed the suit on behalf of six school teachers.

“It strains credulity that people in Tallahassee,  over in the Capitol, know better than the people on the ground,”  Meyer said.

Andy Ford, FEA president, said the new standard — approved in a mostly party-line vote, with legislative Democrats opposed — “totally changed the teaching profession in Florida.”

“It denies teachers the constitutional right to collective bargaining,” Ford said.

The merit pay legislation requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student achievement on tests — including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and other standardized exams, most of which must still be developed by state and local educators.

Under the bill, current teachers would retain existing pay schedules and contracts — even those spanning multi-years. They could lose their jobs, though, if they drew two subpar annual evaluations within three years.

Teachers hired after July 1, however, are limited to one-year contracts and would draw raises only if rated “effective” or “highly effective.”

Former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a similar bill last year. But during last fall’s governor’s race, Scott made ending teacher tenure and enacting merit pay a central portion of his campaign, with the FEA throwing in heavily behind Democrat Alex Sink.

Teachers’ union set to sue to block tying teacher pay to student test results

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011 by John Kennedy

After months of promising action, the state’s largest teachers’ union looks ready to bring Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-ruled Legislature to court in an attempt to overturn a measure that creates a new merit pay standard and ends teacher tenure.

The legislation (CS/SB 736) was the first bill signed into law this spring by Scott. But it also marked was the culmination of a increasingly bitter clash between Florida Republicans and the Democratic-allied Florida Education Association, a struggle whose roots are deep.

FEA President Andy Ford and other leaders of the teachers’ group plan to outline the lawsuit they plan to file during a news conference and media call tomorrow.

The merit pay legislation requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student achievement on tests — including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and other standardized exams, most of which must still be developed by state and local educators.

Under the bill, current teachers would retain existing pay schedules and contracts — even those spanning multi-years. They could lose their jobs, though, if they drew two subpar annual evaluations within three years.

Teachers hired after July 1, however, are limited to one-year contracts and would draw raises only if rated “effective” or “highly effective.”

Former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a similar bill last year. But during last fall’s governor’s race, Scott made ending teacher tenure and enacting merit pay a central portion of his campaign, with the FEA throwing in heavily behind Democrat Alex Sink.

The FEA is already squared off against the Legislature, having earlier this summer sued to overturn a proposed constitutional amendment put on next year’s ballot to lift the state’s more than century-old prohibition on tax dollars flowing to religious institutions.

Scott promises more change to come in Florida schools

Friday, March 25th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott reenacted Friday his signing into law legislation restricting teacher tenure and introducing merit pay — steps fiercely fought by the state’s teachers’ union.

“The big winner here is all our kids,” Scott assured in a brief ceremony at the Capitol, flanked by House and Senate sponsors of the measure, approved last week by the Republican-ruled Legislature.

It’s the first state law enacted by the rookie governor. “Good start, governor,” shouted Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, after Scott put down his pen.

Scott formally signed the legislation Thursday at a Jacksonville school, capping a long political march by Republican leaders. Florida GOP lawmakers have been pushing back against the Florida Education Association for years and got close last year to enacting the merit pay bill – only to have then-Gov. Charlie Crist veto it.

Scott indicated Friday that he’s got plenty more to change in Florida schools.

“We’ve got to get charter schools expanded, we’ve go to give our public schools the opportunity to be run by third parties and be way more innovative,” said Scott — who declined to take questions following the ceremony.

Teacher pay bill set for House vote

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Outnumbered House Democrats sought to punch holes Tuesday in a sweeping plan pushed by ruling Republicans, which eliminates public school tenure and ties teacher pay to student performance.

With the House set to vote today on the measure already approved by the Senate, Democrats grilled House sponsor Erik Fresen, R-Miami, about the legislation (SB 736), which critics say is designed to punish a state’s teachers union that historically has poured millions of dollars into Democratic campaigns.

Fresen defended the measure, downplaying the politics and saying it will assure that Florida rewards the best teachers by giving them incentives to help students achieve.

“There’s nothing in this bill that micromanages how teaching is done,” said Fresen, chairman of the K-20 Competitiveness subcommittee. “It simply deals with contracts, evaluations and salary schedules.”

Senate OK’s merit pay for teachers

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate approved legislation Thursday that would end tenure and tie teacher pay to student performance — the latest round in a long clash between Republican lawmakers and the state teachers union.

The 26-12 vote split on party lines, with Democrats opposed.

 Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, was the lone Democrat to crossover and support the measure; Republican Sens. Dennis Jones of Seminole and Paula Dockery of Lakeland joined Democratic opponents.

The measure (CS/SB 736) is similar to legislation that convulsed Florida last spring, before then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it following demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns by the Florida Education Association.

 Crist broke with the Republican Party following his veto; and the FEA endorsed Democrat Alex Sink over the GOP’s Rick Scott in last fall’s governor’s race.

Scott campaigned in favor of the legislation.

“This bill ought to be a teacher’s dream – to be paid for a student’s success,” said Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, sponsor of the bill.

Senate prez on protests: ‘Welcome to America’

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Protests planned on tomorrow’s opening day of the 2011 legislative session by unions and tea party activists are “exciting,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos told reporters this morning.

“This is America. People have every right to protest, positively or negatively. I think it’s exciting that people are taking such an interest in their government and they want to be vocal about where they stand,” the Merritt Island Republican, running for U.S. Senate, said. “If there are protests on either side, welcome to America.”

Asked if the protests might reach the heated level as Wisconsin, where union activists have camped out for weeks in the Capitol, Haridopolos shrugged.

“It might happen. If I was a protester and I had the choice of going to Wisconsin or Florida, I’d probably come here too,” he quipped.

(more…)

Senate rules chairman urges Crist to veto ‘unconstitutional mess’ teacher pay bill

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. Alex Villalobos, the Republican Rules Committee chairman, joined a slew of Democratic lawmakers urging Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the contentious teacher pay bill.

But Villalobos used a different tack to persuade the governor, who has until midnight Friday to act on the measure (SB 6): it’s a “constitutional mess.”

Villalobos argued in a letter to Crist sent Tuesday that the bill that virtually eliminates job security for teachers and bases their salary increases on how well their students perform on standardized tests poses a host of potential constitutional problems.

(more…)

Crist not getting much pressure from Speaker Cretul on teacher bill

Friday, April 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist said he’s being leaned on more heavily about the sweeping teacher pay reforms now on his desk or veto than on any other issue since he took office three years ago.

But caught in the hallway on his way out of the Capitol this afternoon, House Speaker Larry Cretul didn’t have much to say about the measure (SB 6).

When asked what he would tell the governor to try to convince him to sign it into law, Cretul said simply: “It’s a good bill.”

That’s it?

“Yes it is. Sixty-six people thought it was a good bill,” Cretul said.

Oops. Democratic members nearby corrected the leader. The final vote was 64-55.

“Well, I’m working it,” Cretul said.

Maybe the Ocala Republican was more tired than taciturn.

Cretul was at the podium through much of the eight-hour debate on the measure that dragged on until just before 2:30 a.m. this morning.

Angry teachers clog House Speaker phone lines

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

So many angry teachers called House Speaker Larry Cretul’s office late last week his staff had to add four additional telephone lines and four workers to field the complaints, Cretul spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin said.

The Speaker’s office received more than 5,500 phone calls on Thursday and Friday about SB 6, the measure approved by the Senate last week that would revamp teacher salaries and job security by basing educators’ pay on how well their students perform on standardized tests.

Most of the calls objected to the proposal, Chamberlin said.

“It’s hard to generalize, but many people did not seem to know what the bill does (they thought it would reduce current teacher pay—it won’t) (they thought it would affect current teacher retirement and benefits—it won’t, etc.) and many thought we were taking a poll (which we were not.) It is certainly possible that some people didn’t get through or got voice mail—considering the volume,” Chamberlin said in an e-mail.

Senate does away with teacher tenure after angry debate

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate passed a measure that would have a far-reaching impact on teachers’ salaries and job security after a heated debate by Democratic opponents and an angry defense of the bill by Republicans.

Four Republicans – Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Dennis Jones of Seminole and Alex Villalobos of Miami – joined Democrats on the losing side of the 21-17 vote.

(more…)

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