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War Over Tenure, Merit Pay

April 5th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

There is a war at the state capitol over the future of teacher tenure, merit pay and who controls local school budgets. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the fight pits two of the state’s most powerful interests against each other with two different visions of education.

Florida Teachers hit the airwaves first.

Then the Chamber of Commerce fired back.

“Unfortunately, the union message, across the state, needed to be countered,” Mark Wilson, President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce said.

Teachers flocked to the Capitol Monday, angry a bill that they believe would end their tenure and tie their pay to student performance.

“It’s atrocious,” Carol Cleveland, a Columbia County teacher, said. “It’s taking away all the rights from teachers.”

Then waited more than an hour for a committee room to open.

Amanda Babcock came from St. Lucie County.

“They need to ask us what we need, ask our input and let us help and work together,”  Babcock, a 5th grade teacher, said.

This is the first time that anyone in 30 years can remember the legislature scheduling an 8-hour hearing.

The legislation also has the state school boards up in arms because it requires them to set aside five percent of their local budgets for merit pay.

“Some districts would have to move money, that they’re ordinarily using for other things, utilities, transportation, teacher salaries,” Wayne Blanton, with the Florida School Boards Association, said. “It’s all got to go to this one program.”

The sponsor says his bill is misunderstood.

“It does not eliminate tenure for current teachers. It does not eliminate collective bargaining,” Rep. John Legg (R-Port Richey) said.

Many of the changes don’t take place until 2014. Plenty of time, say sponsors, to fix any problems.

There are also two dueling websites telling stories as different as night and day.  The teachers’ story is on Facebook and at www.makeourschoolsapriority.org and the chamber’s side of the story is at www.classroomflorida.com.

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