Treasure Coast teachers fear state’s proposed pay, merit legislationFebruary 19th, 2011 by TCPalm.com
By Colleen Wixon
With the emergence of state legislation again taking aim at teacher pay and tenure, Treasure Coast teachers are worried.
Last year, Senate Bill 6 only needed Gov. Charlie Crist’s signature to end teachers’ tenure-like protection in Florida and tie teacher raises to student test performance. This year, similar actions are proposed in Senate Bill 736.
“We are very concerned,” said Beth Weatherstone, president of the Indian River County Education Association. “We are taking it very seriously.”
The bill, written by Florida Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, would change how teachers are paid and evaluated. Teachers hired in Florida after 2014 would be placed on one-year contracts. Their pay raises would be based in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests.
The bill so far has passed the Florida Senate Education Committee. There is no similar legislation currently proposed in the House.
Martin County School Board Chairman Sue Hershey said the Florida School Boards Association is monitoring the progress of the bill and informing board members on its website.
Hershey said she believes some form of the bill might pass this year. She noted there are similarities between the bill and the national Race To The Top grant program. Race To The Top, in part, calls for teacher performance pay and merit pay instead of automatic raises.
Regardless of how board members feel about the bill, they need to be prepared for it getting approved, she said.
“We would be foolish to ignore it,” Hershey said. The question becomes how best to implement it if it passes, she said.
“How are we going to reward our well-rounded, well-seasoned teachers that we have now?” she said.
Wise has said the legislation is meant to improve the academic performance of students, not punish teachers.
But teachers are taking action.
Weatherstone said teachers are trying to educate local legislators about their concerns. Members have been calling state senators, she said.
“How are we going to retain and recruit good teachers with that kind of evaluation system?” she said.
St. Lucie teachers also plan on getting their voices heard in Tallahassee and locally, said Vicki Rodriguez, vice president of the St. Lucie Classroom Education Association.
“So far, while there has been dialogue, it seems to be falling on deaf ears. Perhaps we need to be a bit louder,” Rodriguez said.
The union also wants to enlist parents’ support.
“As a parent of a kindergartner myself, I shudder to think how the amazing things that go on in my son’s kindergarten classroom would be adversely affected by his teacher being saddled with a test to prove she is doing a wonderful job with him and the other 18 students in the class. As a parent, I expect my legislators and governor to listen to my concerns and do what’s best for my child and the rest of the children in Florida. As taxpayers and citizens, we all should expect that,” Rodriguez said.
The new legislation keeps in place current teacher salary schedules, which are based largely on the number of years worked. New teachers would get raises based on their performance and wouldn’t have the tenure-like protections current teachers have.
All teachers would be evaluated under the system that would use student growth on tests as a key measurement, but also would take into account factors teachers say are outside their control, like students’ absentee rates.
Under the provisions of the bill, the state would wait until the end of the year, test students and base half of a teacher’s evaluation on that, Weatherstone said.
Teachers now use data from benchmark tests given throughout the school year to improve curriculum and instruction, Weatherstone said. They don’t wait until the end of the year to determine there is a problem, she said.
District officials also are looking at the bill.
“Teachers in Martin County work very hard and are committed to excellence in education. The district is reviewing Senate Bill 736 and will monitor its progress in the Legislature, as we also continue to monitor other educational related proposals,” Martin County Schools Superintendent Nancy Kline said.
Naples Daily News staff writer Katherine Albers contributed to this report.
Posted February 17, 2011 at 6:48 p.m.