Teachers praise Crist for vetoing bill
Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a bill Thursday that has garnered national headlines for instituting a teacher performance pay system in Florida.
Both SB 6/HB 7189 cleared the Florida Legislature on April 10 and Crist had seven days to either accept or veto the legislation. The deadline for his decision was midnight on Friday, but Crist announced at a press conference Thursday afternoon in Tallahassee that he vetoed the bill.
Crist has been inundated with thousands of phone calls and e-mails from teachers and activists who opposed the legislation. According to a report from the Associated Press, the governor’s office received more than 65,000 communications against the bill and only 3,000 in favor of it.
Tony Bombassaro and his wife, Jennifer, are both teachers at Trafalgar Elementary, and were among a contingent of educators giving their thanks to Crist hours after his veto.
“We are definitely pleased that our voice is being heard as educators and parents,” said Tony Bombassaro, who teaches the fifth grade, and called Crist’s office on a daily basis. “My wife called two or three times a day, we weren’t just saying it as teachers but as parents.”
The proposal would result in many teachers leaving the profession, he said. Opponents of the bill also said it would discourage teachers from wanting to educate at-risk or special education students.
“If it would’ve passed, many teachers would’ve left the state of Florida and many new teachers would think about a different career,” he said.
The Bombassaros participated in a sign-waving rally on the corner of Veteran’s Parkway and Santa Barbara Boulevard in Cape Coral. Teachers screamed excitedly as cars passed the intersection Thursday afternoon and some motorists blared their horns in support.
Jennifer Bombassaro held a sign which read, “We Will Remember in November,” insinuating that many teachers may vote for Crist in his bid for U.S. Senate.
“I think it really shows he supports education and we are thankful to him,” she said.
The bill, originally introduced by Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, and supported by Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, and Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, locally, bases teacher pay on how well students perform on standardized tests, stops factoring advanced degrees into pay scales and requires new teachers to work under annual contracts for a longer period of time.
Many teachers point out that uncontrollable factors — such as home life, disability, excessive illness or tardiness — all contribute to a student’s academic achievement, and that teacher salaries can’t be based on aspects of a student’s life that is out of their hands.
The Teachers Association and Support Personnel Association of Lee County held a major rally at the Lee Education Center in March, before the bill passed the Florida House of Representatives, and groups of teachers from schools in Cape Coral have organized sign-waving rallies this week urging Crist to veto the bill.
“I’m very pleased, obviously, and I’m very proud of the work that all of the FEA (Florida Education Association) family statewide has put in, and I’m particularly proud of what our people locally have done,” said Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County. “I think this was a courageous move on the governor’s part, but I appreciate how difficult it was for him.”
Castellano said that sign-waving rallies scheduled for Thursday weren’t cancelled, but instead the message was changed.
“We encouraged them to still get out there and thank the governor and all of those voices against this bill, and thank those who took the time and made the effort to contact legislators and the governor,” he said.
The FEA collected 30,000 online petitions statewide against the bill and also lobbied Crist to strike it down.
“SB 6 was formulated without an ounce of input from anyone within the public school community,” said FEA President Andy Ford, in a prepared statement. “Teachers, administrators and parents weren’t consulted and their views of this radical legislation were dismissed repeatedly by many legislators. But Gov. Crist listened.”
Thrasher told the AP that he would reintroduce the bill in next year’s session.
“Major legislation like this sometimes takes years to pass,” he said. “I’m confident this is an idea that’s going to sweep across America.”
The Associated Press also reported that Crist is forming a task force for teachers, unions and other stakeholders to work together on an second application for the federal Race to the Top grant. Tennessee and Delaware, winners of the first round of the Race to the Top program, received $600 million in grant funding from the federal government.