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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Weatherford takes the heat during testy hearing on reform bill



4399 Back home in Wesley Chapel, many people see state Rep. Will Weatherford as a pleasant, charming, youthful hometown guy who knows you on sight and always has a smile and an offer to help.

Up in Tallahassee, where Weatherford has his eyes set on leading the Florida House in just two years, he's become a voice for the most contentious changes to education reform since Jeb Bush pushed through the A-Plus plan.

For his role, Weatherford has been targeted by angry teachers who don't like his ways.

During Thursday's hearing on a bill that would completely change employment terms for teachers, Weatherford commented (essentially) that degrees don't make the teacher — results do. He downplayed the vitriol that speakers had for the legislation, saying they simply didn't understand.

Teachers in the audience took issue, not only with the message, but also the delivery. One Orange County educator implored Weatherford to pay attention to her as she poured out her views, saying he looked disengaged. A speaker from Weatherford's own Pasco County told the lawmaker to quit smirking and to at least appear as if he cared.

When it came time for the rubber to hit the road, Weatherford proved the driver. He made the motion to end all debate and public comment, despite the line of speakers who remained and the list of amendments still to be heard. The vote came next, along party lines, with Democrats railing against the railroading of the measure. 

Weatherford accused the Dems of playing politics themselves by trying to stretch the discussion past the appointed time, though they well knew when the meeting was scheduled to end — an allegation the Dems denied.

Then Democratic Rep. Marty Kiar tried to have the bill held over for another day, saying the magnitude of the proposal required more thorough vetting. Weatherford again jumped in, practically speaking over Kiar to make a non-debatable motion to immediately report the item out of committee. Acting committee chairwoman Rep. Anitere Flores took up Weatherford's motion, which passed with a partisan vote.

All the while, committee chairman and bill sponsor John Legg, also a Pasco County Republican, sat by and said nothing except "yes" when the roll was called.

Teachers say they're motivated like never before to stop what they see as a personal attack on their livelihoods. As much as some of them like Weatherford personally, they're talking about whether they can take him politically, even though (and perhaps because) he's headed to run the show in 2012.

This is one we'll really have to stay tuned for.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:55am]


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