House passes teacher performance pay legislation
Weeks of debate and protest reached a conclusion early Friday morning when the Florida House of Representatives voted 64-55 to approve a bill instituting teacher performance pay in one of the most sweeping changes to the state’s education system in decades.
Earlier on Thursday night the House passed legislation easing the class size requirements passed in a 2002 constitutional amendment and one requiring students to take end-of-course exams, but the most controversial of the legislative measures was debated all night and approved at 2:26 a.m.
It was originally introduced by Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, and received yea votes from local legislators including Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, and Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.
The next step is for the proposal to go before Gov. Charlie Crist for a signature or veto, although some media reports are saying Crist is considering a veto of the bill because of the thousands of e-mails and phone calls he has received from its vocal opposition.
Under the legislation, teacher salaries based on “steps,” based on experience, and negotiated between school boards and unions, are to be replaced with a system linking salary to student performance on standardized exams.
And the Florida Department of Education has discretion over salary scale approval.
Unions across the state, including the Teacher’s Association and Support Personnel Association of Lee County, have vehemently opposed SB 6 and HB 7189 because they say it strips teachers of job security, cuts their salaries, and discourages them from teaching the highest need students.
Supporters, on the other hand, say the system will reward hard-working teachers who get results and encourage professionals to work in Florida.
Lee County School Board Chairman Steve Teuber said he doesn’t have an official position on the legislation at this time, but thinks student performance should play some role in how teachers are paid or earn their professional certificate.
“Do I believe there should be a performance factoring in teacher evaluations? Absolutely. But should it be the only factor? No it shouldn’t,” said Teuber.
He said tenure is an outdated concept and that incentives should be in place for good teachers.
According to union officials, there are already processes in place to remove ineffective teachers and that SB 6/HB 7189 is meant to circumvent local decision-making.
Even with processes in place, Teuber said that getting rid of an ineffective teacher isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“The issue of getting rid of bad teachers, people say you can do it, but you can’t,” he said. “It is a process nightmare.”
He explained that student achievement shouldn’t be the only measure used for determining teacher salaries, yet pointed out that school boards have time to fix any problems with the legislation before full implementation.
“That bill doesn’t have to be implemented for six years, so there will be a lot of opportunities to fix things that don’t make sense,” he said.
Lee County School Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he is also concerned tests being the primary method of determining a teacher’s salary. And under some circumstances what constitutes an inefficient teacher is subjective.
“They are making teachers the scapegoat for every problem in education,” he said. “Bonuses and accountability needs to be done, but I have a problem with how they’re coming to it.”
Another of Chilmonik’s concerns during the legislative process was that if performance pay is passed, it should be applied to both teachers or administrators, or neither.
Donna Mutzenard, unit service director for the Florida Education Association, said the plan applies to both teachers and administrators, but not support personnel.
Chilmonik said that many felt legislators decided on this bill without consulting district officials or educators, and as a result the bill is not supported by teachers.
“Our elected leaders need to talk to the school board, administrators, teachers and taxpayers,” he said.
The state’s teacher union, the Florida Education Association, has collected more than 22,000 online signatures and has lobbied hard against the bill, pointing out aspects of the bill to districts, such as how 5 percent will be held back from budgets and pooled to pay for the implementation of the new pay plan.
Other state organizations, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, support the House bill because they believe the reforms will transform Florida into a knowledge-based economy which attracts the best and brightest.
“Florida employers are competing in a global marketplace and need a talented workforce now more than ever to ensure their success and a vibrant, thriving economy,” said President and CEO Mark Wilson, in a prepared statement.