Commissioner Smith: Union opposition could sink Race to the Top
If the Florida Department of Education gets little or no union support for its Race to the Top application, that could be enough for federal officials to cross Florida off its list, Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board this afternoon.
Asked whether minimal union support could sink the application, Smith responded: "Yeah. Yeah. There's a minimal number of points tied to it -- there's 10, I think, tied to getting all three signatures (from the superintendent, school board chair and union president) at the local level. But it sends a peculiar message. If I'm looking at 14 states that have submitted bold, robust plans, and four of them have good sign off by all the major leadership in the state, that sends a very clear message."
But Smith also said he still hopes to secure the signature of Andy Ford, the Florida Education Association president who has encouraged local union presidents not to sign the application's memorandum of understanding, which is due to the state Jan. 12. "I don't think we're that far apart," he said. "What I hear from Andy is ... an interest in having local control, there is an interest in flexibility. Those are not just aspirations (on the state's end), those are things we intend to deliver on."
Asked whether local union presidents might sign despite Ford's recommendation, Smith said, "We have independent thinkers in Florida -- superintendents and board presidents and union presidents."
Smith also said it's highly unlikely that the MOU will be amended in coming days. "I don't close any door ... and I am in conversation with Andy Ford ... but I think to modify the MOU at this stage of the game would be very, very confusing and would throw our state into turmoil."