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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Rick Scott's gunning for collective bargaining



The 20-page wish list released by the Florida governor-elect’s education team this week includes several recommendations to limit collective bargaining, and has teachers unions thinking more than ever that they have a bulls-eye on their back.

“It appears some people want to turn the clock back 40 years,” said Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas teachers union, referring to the conditions that preceded the 1968 teachers strike. “I’m just concerned that in trying to shoot us, if you will, how many teachers are they going to kill off?”

“Any time you want change, blame a group,” said Hernando union president Joe Vitalo. “That’s the only way you get people active: Oh yeah, it’s them.”

For the moment, it’s unclear how Scott could get what he wants.

The recommendations from Scott’s transition team say, “Teacher evaluations should be removed from the collective bargaining process and should be determined by the superintendent and school board in collaboration with teachers.” They also say, “Ensure collective bargaining process is limited to negotiations on salaries and benefits and remove terms and conditions from the negotiation process.”

The Gradebook could not immediately reach Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer, the go-to guy on these issues. So we asked Jim Robinson, general counsel for the Pinellas school board, for his view.

Robinson noted the Florida Constitution (Article 1, Section 6) recognizes the right of employees to bargain collectively, and says that right “shall not be denied or abridged.” The Florida Statutes that implements that provision (Chapter 447, Part II) authorizes bargaining over “wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment.”

A proposal to exclude terms and conditions sure sounds like an abridgement, Robinson said. Changing that would seem to require a constitutional amendment, he said.

We don’t know if Scott and Republican lawmakers are considering something like that. But stay tuned.

In the meantime, though, they might be able to take a more limited whack at collective bargaining. Robinson pointed out the Legislature made a statutory change in 2006 that could have set a precedent.

The change said districts could not put a disproportionate percentage of temporarily certified teachers, teachers in need of improvement or out-of-field teachers into struggling schools. It also said this: “a district school board may not sign a collective bargaining agreement that precludes the school district from providing sufficient incentives to meet this requirement" and that "notwithstanding provisions of chapter 447 relating to district school board collective bargaining, collective bargaining provisions may not preclude a school district from providing incentives to high-quality teachers and assigning such teachers to low-performing schools.”

Robinson's take: “There is precedent should the Legislature enact legislation that prohibits school boards from signing a collective bargaining agreement that contains performance evaluations. Such a statute could only apply to collective bargaining agreements once they are up for renewal.”

Vitalo’s take: Expect a lawsuit.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 23, 2010 6:37am]


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