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East County Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011 6 years ago

My View: Teachers unions sue for status quo

by: Rod Thomson

It should not surprise anyone that Florida teachers are suing to block the new state law attempting to de-link teacher pay from years worked and instead link pay to performance.

We have long pointed out the intransigence of government unions toward needed fiscal restraint by governments on behalf of taxpayers and the larger economy, and specific intransigence by teachers unions regarding their members being paid according to how good they are — like most people in the private sector.

The concept of merit pay, such an obviously good idea for student outcomes, is antithetical to the largest government unions in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the state of Florida and the nation.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of Foundation for Florida’s Future — former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education think tank — issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying that Florida “teachers deserve to be recognized for their effectiveness and dedication with professional-level compensation … Today’s action by the teachers’ union, once again proves they care more about protecting political power than promoting a dynamic, highly skilled workforce of educators.”

As if on cue to prove Levesque’s point, Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said, “The Legislature would love to get rid of the Florida Education Association because we are the only ones [who] seem to stand up to them on a regular basis.” The teacher’s union leader sees this as about power, and apparently his power.

Then he added this jewel: “If they can get rid of us, they can have a free reign over government, which is a scary concept.”

Only to a union leader is the idea of a duly elected Legislature having control of government a scary concept. It’s something the Founders liked to call representative democracy.

The new law eliminates the long-term contracts for teachers, placing newly hired teachers on one-year contracts. Most private-sector workers have no contract. So going from long-term to a one-year contract is hardly a terrible deprivation.

The law also creates a system for evaluating teacher performance. The evaluation system mixes objective with subjective. Half of a teacher’s performance will be based on student test scores and half will be on a performance-rating level through personal evaluations.

Florida is among many states across the nation trying to balance budgets and realizing the need to rein in the government unions. Wisconsin was the epicenter, and both the courts and the people of Wisconsin backed measures to get control of unaffordable spending on government employees. And new teacher evaluation laws already have been enacted in Indiana, Oklahoma, and New York, with teachers unions fighting them there as well.

At least some individual teachers, accustomed to virtual job guarantees, are not happy with the new law.
Christine Mayer, a 33-year teaching veteran at Ashton Elementary in Sarasota, traveled to Tallahassee when the suit was filed so she could speak against the law. “I’m there to teach the child,” she said.

“They’re there to learn. Now I have yet more hoops to jump through that violate my constitutional rights.”

Well yes, government paperwork is a drag. But it is part of being a government employee. It is doubtful there are constitutional violations. If there are any, then the constitution would need to be changed. Merit pay is long past due — because school districts must change.

Holding schools accountable, as is done now in the state through funding, is one step. Holding teachers accountable through pay is another step. Far more reform in funding and parental options is needed.

School officials will retort that it is unfair to teachers in failing schools, typically inner-city schools with crummy demographics for student achievement. Perhaps. But it is more unfair for the students trapped in those schools.

More money obviously has not improved student achievement. If school reform does not work, then perhaps school demolition is the answer.

The status quo for too many children in public schools — for their future and the future of our state and country — simply is not acceptable.

Rod Thomson can be reached at [email protected].

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