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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with Sarasota teachers union executive director Barry Dubin



Barry210-302 This week 59 of 67 Florida school districts signed up to participate in the Obama administration's Race to the Top education grant program, of which Florida is seeking about $700 million. Only five teachers unions agreed to willingly enter the process, which calls for major changes to teacher working conditions. The Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association was the first to signal its support. Executive director Barry Dubin talked with reporter Jeff Solochek about the group's rationale.

I'm interested in knowing how you came to know this was something you would want to sign off on.

All we're signing off on is the attempt to reach some sort of agreement. We have been very clear with management up front that we may not be able to reach agreement. But in the meantime, from what we're hearing, the state is showing a little more flexibility all the time. Next year is just kind of a planning year anyway. So to me I didn't see much risk in signing off on giving it a try. As long as everyone understands, and we've been extremely up front about that. And if we can't reach agreement, so be it.

I mean, there are obviously some extremely troubling parts of Race to the Top. But we don't know what will be the final Race to the Top guidelines. That's two or three years into the future. So we figured, why not at least keep our options open.

What about some of the concerns that have been raised by the FEA?

Oh, there are some tremendous concerns. But as I said, it seems to us that the tendency seems to be toward more flexibility from the state and maybe they will give us enough flexibility that we can do something for our members.

What kind of flexibility are you sensing will exist? I don't know the real specifics. But just in talking with the superintendent we just feel we should wait and see and let it ride for a little bit. As long as everybody knows up front that there is a fairly high probability we will not be able to reach agreement ultimately.

Have you talked with any other area teacher associations? Because a lot of them have said they're just not comfortable ...

I understand. We have a different and closer relationship with the administration. We are very frank with the administration here and they are very honest and frank with us. At different times in our history we have been in different places with the administration. But right now we have been extremely clear that we doubt we will be able to reach agreement, but what the heck, let's just keep our options open. I just don't see a downside to that now. But that's in my circumstances. I don't mean to pass any value judgment. If you're in a position where you can't trust the superintendent, that's a very different thing.

You don't think you'll ultimately be able to reach an agreement, though.

I think the way it is written it will be extremely difficult for us to.

Have you had any people calling you since this list was released by the Department of Education saying, 'What the heck are you doing?'

No. I mean, my buddy the president down in Monroe asked how we were going to deal with it. And I told him, why not just keep our options open for a while. But once again, they have different relationships. And you always have to take it in the context of the relationships you have. We were extremely up front with the superintendent. She kind of agrees with us, frankly. I don't think she feels any differently than we do about it. The things in it that trouble us also trouble her. And she understands that completely.

But in the meantime ...

Why not try? Plus, you get money for trying. To me, I didn't see a downside. ... Given our situation, it just seems almost like a no-brainer to me. Why would we not get some money out of it. And who knows? Maybe they will take the things that obviously we could never agree to out.

That would be interesting.

By the way, I am not predicting that. I don't want you to think I'm real naive. No. I would not predict that. But what the heck.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:47am]


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