Senate Bill 736

FEA President, Andy Ford

I am a Florida public school teacher and a parent. Like many others, I am following this year’s Legislation closely. Each day, I am approached by fellow teachers and parents who are also trying to understand what is going on with all the bills that are hitting our House and Senate. One bill in particular, Senate Bill 736, is a serious worry to many. So, I did what I would recommend of my students: I printed, read, highlighted, sticky-noted, and outlined the bill. I must tell you, at 47 pages long, it was no easy matter..

The bill is full of so many generalities, it is difficult to understand. So, I sought advice. I sent a few questions to Andy Ford, President of FEA, Florida Education Association. He promptly responded, and at length, addressing each of my questions. His answers were very informative. Here is an excerpt of his reply (quoted with his permission):

“All teachers and parents need to see SB736 is a “slightly lighter” version of SB6. It guts local control, expands testing, bases employment decisions on student test data and eliminates due process for all new teachers, teachers opting for the new performance salary schedules, and a teacher relocating to a new district…this bill is wrong for students, teachers, and public schools. Add to that the list of anti-union bills and budget cuts and this is setting up to be a disaster for kids! Silence the opposition seems to be the agenda.” ~Andy Ford, President FEA

Disaster for kids is right.

I know folks like to call our union leaders ‘thugs’. Why? Well, apparently, intelligence is intimidating. I can tell you this – with the threats to our Florida Constitution that these bills propose, we should all be so lucky as to have a few Andy Fords sticking up for us.

Northeast Florida, where public education died

Northeast Florida if you wanted to destroy education, knee cap the middle class and do harm to the state you have come up aces. Embrace what you have done; own it, because if we get much more of Wise, Thrasher and Scott that will be about all you do own, it’s definitely all your children will.

Congratulations Northeast Florida, you are the epicenter for the destruction of the state’s public schools. Your recent dogged insistence to vote against you and your children’s interests and for politicians that couldn’t care less about the both of you have signaled education’s death knell. When you voted for Steven Wise, John Thrasher and Rick Scott you may as well as put a stake through education’s heart and forks in our children, because they too like our schools are done.

Steven Wise is no friend of public education and this has been made more evident by his senate bill 736 or what he laughably calls the teacher quality bill. In his bill teachers become at will employees and can be fired regardless of performance. Speak up? You’re gone. The principal doesn’t like you? You’re gone. The principal’s neighbor has a nephew who thinks he might like to try teaching because it would be cool to have summers off? You’re gone. This not increased quality, is what senate bill 736 will allow to happen. It also gets rid of pay increases for advanced degrees. I hope this irony is not lost on you. In every profession we say the more education you get the better off you will be, every profession except education that is, and it also gets rid of seniority and due process, two of the long established tenants of education.

The bill is also another unfunded mandate. School districts will be required to come up with ways to finance the various teacher salary scales and all the increased testing that the bill calls for. Kids will be taught more to the test than ever because now a teacher’s job is on the line more than ever. These tests are not just going to magically appear. They will be developed and scored by educational testing companies who will drain much needed money away from schools coffers and reap millions in profits. Then there will also be teacher evaluation systems that has Michelle Rhee and others salivating. Oh you didn’t know Michelle Rhee has a teacher evaluation system. Why she does, it’s called IMPACT and it has widely been panned in Washington D.C. which means it is probably on the fast track to Florida; after all she is the darling of Rick Scott and Wise.

Steven Wise has cloaked the bill in simplistic easy to please statements like merit pay and reward our best teachers. He doesn’t mention that teachers, who may know better what’s best for them than he does are overwhelmingly against it. His bill is like giving doctors who didn’t ask for it a clump or dirt and saying it’s a cutting edge scalpel and they must use it. Wise also doesn’t mention that there is no study that says merit pay works. Not one! In fact all the studies say it is the equivalent of the luck of the draw. Teacher’s student’s success on standardized tests varies wildly as students enter and leave their classes.
Wise says he wants to improve education, my question is how? Is it by making teachers want to leave and replacements harder to attract because that is what his bill is really doing; hey Jacksonville great job in voting for him.

Then there is John Thrasher who makes no apologies for his distain, no make that hatred for teachers and their unions and he comes from St. Johns County which is the top school district in the state, thank goodness he didn’t come from a county lower on the list. Wake up St. Johns, his way of thinking is going to hurt the schools and kids in your county as well but I guess some of you didn’t think about that while shooting nine at the country club. Would Deborah Giannoulis really have been such a bad alternative? She ran on a platform of doing what’s best for our kids, Thrasher has a history of doing what’s not.

He wants to end collective bargaining and destroy workers rights. He wants to do this by ending payroll deductions for unions but at the same time continue to allow payroll deductions for the United Way and other organizations and by decertifying unions that have a membership of less than fifty percent plus one. Why should multi-million or billion dollar corporations, his friends and supporters be the only one with a voice in government? In the end all his bill amounts to is rewarding his friends and silencing his enemies. Even if you don’t like unions, is this the America you want to live in? Do you want to live in a country where our corporate over loads tell us what to think and feel and limit the earning power of millions of everyday citizens; if so communist Russia would have been the place for you. This is not just a teacher battle here, this is a battle for the future of the middle class and if we are going to have one or not. Way to go St. Johns, you have just destroyed the teaching profession and public education but potentially the middle class as well, talk about a trifecta.

Thrasher and Wise are so concerned about education that instead of demanding Scott rescind his draconian budget, they develop bills that will handicap and set back the profession. No thanks guys and don’t worry about me I’ll try and get somebody to pull the knife out of my and the thousands of teachers back you just put it in.

Then there is Rick Scott, he of the 1.7 billion dollar fine for fraud who won the election with less than fifty percent of the vote, which was more of a referendum against Obama than for him. You have to hand it to him though, while spending eighty million dollars of his own personal fortune he made the election about Washington D.C. not about Florida. I get it that you don’t like Obammacare but how do you feel about gutting social services for the sick, disabled and children. How do you feel about him curtailing protections for the environment and our rivers and how do you feel about him cutting billions from our already resource starved education system? Friends we were already fiftieth in the nation. He and this is adjusted for inflation, wants to send us back to 1976 levels of school spending, you know before all the unfunded mandates and changes to education that siphoned millions away to corporate charter schools, vouchers and education testing companies.

North East Florida voted for this transplant and while hoping to create additional tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals in addition to the billions we already give, he seeks to balance the budget on the backs of the working poor and the middle class. Cut your own throat much North East Florida.

He won by saying he would create jobs, well the tens of thousands of teachers and government workers who are about to find themselves unemployed aren’t so optimistic about his plan. And friends we are already a low tax, pro business state without an income tax. If companies aren’t rushing here now do you really thing they are going to do so after we destroy public education, curtail government services and harm the environment?

Northeast Florida once again, if you wanted to destroy education, knee cap the middle class and do harm to the state you have come up aces. Embrace what you have done; own it, because if we get much more of Wise, Thrasher and Scott that will be about all you do, it’s definitely all your children will.

John Thrasher’s anti-union bill, a solution looking for a problem

From the Orlando Sentinel

A battle between labor and lawmakers is raging in Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of workers have converged on the Capitol to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to curtail collective bargaining rights for government employees. Democratic senators have fled the state to try to sink the proposal, shirking their duty to make a point.

Similar struggles are brewing in other states. Is Florida next? We hope not.

In Tallahassee, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has wisely said he has no plans to go after public employees’ collective bargaining rights. But he has introduced a package of reforms that would force employees to start contributing to their pensions and would curtail some of their benefits.

We think the reforms are overdue. They would bring public employees’ pensions and benefits more in line with those of most other taxpayers, and save money at a time when state government has to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. So far, so good.

But another leader with statewide stature, GOP Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, is proposing to hit Florida’s public-employee unions in the wallet by making it harder for them to raise and spend money. Unlike Mr. Scott’s proposal, Mr. Thrasher’s doesn’t have fairness or financial justifications behind it.

Mr. Thrasher, a former state GOP chairman, sponsored a bill last year that would have imposed a merit-pay system on teachers. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill under heavy pressure from the state’s top teachers union. Mr. Thrasher took a thrashing.

Now Mr. Thrasher appears bent on settling scores with a bill that would bar government agencies from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks. It also would prohibit unions from using dues for political activity without members’ written consent. Naturally, he denies his legislation is payback. He insists it’s about giving public employees “a choice.”

But public employees already have that choice. Florida is a right-to-work state, so employees, including government workers, can’t be forced to join a union. If they don’t, they don’t have to worry about getting dues deducted from their paychecks. And members have to authorize the deductions.

Thrasher’s bill is a solution in search of a problem.

As for public employees’ generous benefits, don’t just blame their unions. Blame the government officials who granted those benefits, even though public employees in Florida are barred from going on strike, the most powerful weapon for unions.

Here’s what’s really going on with the bill: Eliminating paycheck deductions will only make it harder for the unions to raise money to bankroll their operations. Forcing them to jump through another hoop and get written consent for any political spending will reduce their clout even more.

That clout already is at a low ebb in Florida. Unions usually support Democrats, who now hold all of one statewide office — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — and are at historically weak levels in the House and Senate. If Mr. Thrasher’s bill appears on track to pass, it’d invite Wisconsin-style protests from unions desperate to hang on to what little power they have left in Florida.

Our opposition to this political power play does not mean we’re inclined to take unions’ side on public issues. We think public-employee benefits are due for a haircut. We support merit pay for teachers. We strongly oppose a measure in Congress that would allow workplaces to be unionized without a vote of support from employees in secret-ballot elections.

That said, Florida lawmakers face serious challenges, starting with balancing the state’s budget. There’s no good reason to distract them by picking an unnecessary fight with public-employee unions.

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-02-24/news/os-ed-war-on-unions-20110223_1_union-dues-public-employee-unions-collective-bargaining-rights/2

The Fast Track to Florida’s ruin

From the Palm Beach Post

by John kennedy

TALLAHASSEE — Senate Republicans say they are intent on making good on last fall’s campaign. promises — setting the stage for a highly partisan opening week of the 2011 Legislature.

In party-line votes this week, the GOP-ruled Senate Budget Committee OK’d four high-profile bills that touch on many of the issues raised by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida GOP candidates during last fall’s contests.

“We have a very ambitious opening week planned,” said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. “As we promised, we’re going to take our job very seriously.”

Two measures approved by the budget panel would put ballot proposals before voters next year. One proposal is a constitutional amendment that seeks to cut Florida out of the federal health care overhaul, while the other would put strict new spending limits on state government into the state’s constitution.

The spending-limits measure, referred to as “Taypayer Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, would limit future state revenue using a growth factor based on population and inflation, and limit future borrowing. It does not apply to counties and cities. Backers say it will limit excessive spending, but critics say it would cripple basic services and point to the existing revenue cap in the Constitution.

Another bill would eliminate teacher tenure, create a new teacher evaluation system and introduce merit pay, an approach generally opposed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, a big Democratic base. In large part, it’s a rewrite of last year’s SB 6, which then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed.

Unlike last year, though, the new version would allow the evaluation formula to consider students’ attendance, disciplinary records, disabilities and English proficiency when evaluating teachers for merit pay. However, teachers say it doesn’t go far enough to consider the struggles of high-poverty students.

Rounding out the ripped-from-the-campaign-trail ideas: a product liability bill opposed by Democratic-allied trial lawyers. The bill, sought by the auto industry, would reverse a 2001 Florida Supreme Court ruling and allow juries to hear evidence about to a driver’s actions in product liability cases and require that fault — and damages — be apportioned among the parties involved.

“They’re all obviously being moved on a fast track for the first week of session,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston told fellow Democrats.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he had no control over when the legislation could be lined up for the Senate floor, saying that’s up to the Senate president.

Haridopolos, who has already raised more than $1 million for his campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year, has said he is committed to making a big early impression on core conservative issues when the legislature opens March 8.

That includes getting the health-care ballot measure out quickly. Following the committee vote, Haridopolos said he wanted the legislation bearing his name to be the first bill voted on by the Senate after the session opens on March 8.

“Our message is clear — Floridians can make their own health care choices without mandates from the federal government,” he said.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/florida/os-legislature-campaign-promises-20110224,0,7675847.story