Performance Pay Bill Draws 10,000 Calls for Veto

By: By Kathleen Haughney The News Service of Florida | Posted: April 13, 2010 12:24 AM

More than 10,000 phone calls. More than 15,000 e-mails and letters. They mostly tell Gov. Charlie Crist the same thing – veto SB 6.

Since Republican lawmakers first proposed legislation in early March that would link teacher pay to student performance on standardized exams, teachers have gone on the offensive -- writing, calling, showing up at legislative meetings, all telling lawmakers that a test can't measure their effectiveness in the classroom.

It has generated more public reaction than any other single piece of legislation over the past few years.

“I haven't even seen anything close to this. This is the biggest education overhaul I've seen in my 35 years here,” said Wayne Blanton, executive director for the Florida School Boards Association.

Gov. Charlie Crist seemed to be a proponent of the measure as recently as last Monday, sending out a press release saying he looked forward to seeing the legislation on his desk. But then a few days later as public pressure against the bill mounted, he vacillated, telling reporters he had some concerns about the bill and that he was “listening to the people of Florida - my boss.”

Between March 1 and April 9, the governor's office received 10,247 calls against the bill and 71 in support of it, a spokesman said Monday. He has also received 15, 454 E-mails and letters in opposition to the proposal and 66 in support. That doesn't include 9,000 additional e-mails the staff hasn’t yet read.

Despite the outpouring of veto requests, some of Crist's associates maintain he will sign the bill by the April 16 deadline.

Education Commissioner Eric Smith, who was appointed by Crist and whose staff helped draft the legislation, said last Friday that he expected the governor to “do the right thing” and Republican Party Chair John Thrasher, who sponsored the Senate bill, said he isn't worried that the public outcry will influence Crist. Thrasher said Crist had previously promised to sign the bill, but he added that he has not spoken to the governor since it passed the House early Friday morning. Critics say the state’s teachers’ union is generating a false grass roots uprising.

“I'm not worried at all,” Thrasher told the News Service Monday. “I still rely on what he told me and you know any interest group in the state can generate lots of E-mails and lots of phone calls. That's possible to do. If we start basing public policy on whoever can generate the most phone calls and who can generate the most E-mails, that's pretty poor public policy in my opinion.”

The political implications of how it could affect Crist and his Senate campaign are also a part of the equation. If he vetoes the bill, he would alienate many Republican lawmakers who made the legislation a priority, as well as the wing of the GOP that remains closely aligned with former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose education foundation is a major backer of the measure.

But Crist has bucked the party in favor of public opinion before. He extended voting hours in the 2008 election due to massive turnout, though it did not benefit GOP presidential candidate John McCain. He has been strongly opposed to higher property insurance rates despite lawmaker pressure to let the market dictate those rates, and has been wildly pro consumer on utility issues when it didn’t always match his party’s general outlook.

Several Miami-Dade school teachers declared a “sickout” Monday in protest of the teacher merit pay bill. And at a weekend campaign stop at The Villages, Crist was approached by several people who urged him to veto the legislation, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

The legislation, SB 6, would base teacher pay raises on a performance appraisal determined by local school districts. But 50 percent of that appraisal would be based on student learning gains on standardized exams. The Department of Education, if the bill is signed, would develop metrics to measure learning gains.

Representatives of the school boards and superintendents say they're not opposed to paying teachers based on results, and finding a way to root out inadequate educators. But portions of the bill remain problematic, and stakeholders have expressed concerns that it could create divisiveness among the teachers, administrators and school boards.

The legislation also takes 5 percent of a district's overall funding and requires that it be used specifically for a teacher performance fund rather than other district needs, taking away local control, Blanton said

The three biggest education groups in the debate – the teachers' union, the superintendents and the school boards – all say they have no idea which way the governor will go.

“Most of the time I have my own gut feeling,” said Bill Montford, executive director of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “But this time I have no idea. I'm sure it's a tough call for the governor. It's an ever tougher call to guess what he's going to do.”

Comments (5)

2:48AM APR 15TH 2010
"The legislation also takes 5 percent of a district's overall funding and requires that it be used specifically for a teacher performance fund rather than other district needs, taking away local control, Blanton said"
-You actually wrote something negative about the bill. I am impressed at how you look at both sides.
-You know we have to write emails, you have the funding and the lobbyists! I never realized how SPECIAL INTERESTS rule this state until now. You have this "newspaper" too. You put your weight on newspaper editiorial boards, you flood the halls of the legislature with lobbyists.
You spend money on phone campaigns, focus groups, TV and radio ads, hire people to make silly Facebook pages, and for what? TO GET YOUR WAY!
FOR ONCE, I'd like to see the citizens win! We had to scramble and organize, your party snuck this through. It's amazing! Was this revenge for the healthcare bill? A "hammer" to use on those dastardly unions?
Some of us are Republican, Democrat and independent. Some of us were against health care, Voted for McCain, many of us aren't even in the unions that you guys dislike so much!
FOR ONCE, I'd like to see the will of the people done! We are not a special interest group! We are teachers who are fed up with Jeb Bush and Lobbyist Thrasher pushing an agenda on us!
Don't smear us with your ads and expect us to vote for any of the mercenaries you lobby for!
I don't speak for all teachers of course, but thank you for providing this little tiny pocket that I can voice my opinion. BTW, I'll remember who voted for this in November.
9:43PM APR 13TH 2010
The statement that those educating inner city children would be harmed while those educating high performing suburban children would get an easy ride to higher pay is totally false. In fact the opposit it true. Students would be given a test on the first day of class and again on the last day of class. The percent improvemnt would affect the teachers pay raise. It is far easier to get a big percent increase from a low starting number than from a high starting number. Those who don't understand this must have been educated in the old system.
Proof Reader
8:05AM APR 13TH 2010
You comment "Education Commissioner Eric Smith, who was appointed by Crist " is incorrect. The Commissioner is appointed by the State Board of Education.
12:28AM APR 13TH 2010
Only 10,000 calls. Only 15, 000 emails. Meanwhile, millions have bought their lotto ticket for the drawing. We are a very sick society and our schools are a reflection of this. Yes,let's punish those teachers who teach the low-performing, low income students some more. Let's pat those teachers with the high performing students on the back and give them some more bonuses. Let's encourage them to look down their nose at those who teach the most challenging students. Let's feed their egos some more. Let's create division in the schools instead of unity. Let's make those students angrier than they already are. Let's show how "Christian" we are. Let's love our neighbor as ourselves. Really. This state has more hypocrites per square mile than most of the country. But God has a plan. This peninsula will be below sea level before the middle of the century. That will help clean up the planet. Less good old boys and girls.
12:22AM APR 13TH 2010
Teacher morale is already low. This is so depressing. More punishment for those who teach low-income, low performing students. More proof that most people only think about what's good for them. I am so sick of all the bible banging Christians in this state and all the holier than thou people in the school system. Nobody really cares about their neighbor. Nobody really cares if students get what they need. It's all about looking good. It's all so shallow. So sad.

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