Bill to limit job guarantees for annual contract teachers advances in Florida House
Since Florida lawmakers eliminated annual contracts for public school teachers, a majority of the state's school districts including Pinellas have guaranteed yearly renewals to those educators who earned an "effective" or "highly effective" evaluation rating.
The Florida House Education Committee on Thursday moved to end that authority. On a split vote, the committee favored a bill (HB 373) prohibiting school boards from awarding any contractual terms beyond what's provided in law.
Committee chairman Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said the measure simply solidified the Legislature's intent from 2011, when it ended professional services contracts. Hats off to the unions that were able to negotiate tenure back into the contracts of about 95 percent of their teachers, Bileca said, but that was not the goal.
Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, agreed that the bill clarified existing statute, saying the bill "just makes sense."
Not every member took that stance.
Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, is a teacher who remembered getting his first non-renewal notice. He called the negotiated job guarantees "genius" as a way for districts to offer some stability to their well-regarded teachers, noting that evaluations are based 70 percent on administrator reviews.
"This isn't an automatic renewal," Plasencia said of the deals that the districts and unions have hashed out. "This is a performance measure, a merit based system where we are rewarding teachers for the work they do in the classroom."
Teachers who spoke against the bill shared that view. They noted that some educators have left the state because others do not limit contract terms as Florida does. That's particularly relevant, they said, as Florida faces a teacher shortage.
Joe Minor, representing United Teachers of Dade, said the bill cuts to the very heart of local discretion on how districts retain their top teachers. If teachers are well evaluated by their administrators, Minor said, "Why wouldn't we want to keep them? ... It's a local decision that is being made."
"This bill, what it largely comes down to is taking away local control," added Sean Ashby, an Orange County teacher.
Spencer Pylant, lobbyist for the Pasco County school district, noted his district is one of three that has gone to impasse in contract negotiations over this issue this year. The United School Employees of Pasco has pressed for annual contract protections over several years, without success.
"Teachers who are doing a good job are staying in the classroom," Pylant said, noting the district has renewed about 99 percent of all annual contract teachers.
He asked the panel to approve the bill, to make clear whether the districts can or cannot approve the teachers' request.
Sponsor Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, said the Legislature had this debate before, and rejected language allowing districts to offer any extra guarantees to annual contract holders. The committee then approved the measure 9-5, sending it to the House floor.
An identical bill in the Senate has not been considered in any of its three committees of reference.