A weekend interview with state Rep. Bill Proctor, chairman of the Florida House K-20 Education Committee
The Florida Legislature renewed its discussion on teacher quality and performance pay issues this past week, with several hearings in both the Senate and the House. The question hasn't been whether a revamped version of last year's vetoed Senate Bill 6 will come up this year, but rather what the details will be. The Senate opened the doors to anyone who wanted to come offer ideas, with no language on the table, while the House started its conversation with a detailed proposal from Jeb Bush's Foundation for a Better Florida. House K-20 Committee chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about his expectations of this year's effort to push for change to the ways teachers are contracted, paid, evaluated and certified.
I'm wondering where you see this headed now. There's definitely going to be a bill, it looks like, and I want to know how closely the two houses are working on it and how much input you are seeking from outside groups.
Well I guess two things. No. 1, most of the committee hearings that I am acquainted with on education in the House have been predominantly testimony from representatives of the various segments of the education system. We really haven't had any testimony, any hearings dealing specifically with bills, that I am aware of. ...
I guess I am thinking when you had at the subcommittee Patricia Levesque making a presentation on the recommendations she had from the Foundation (for a Better Florida).
Okay. All right. I saw when Patricia made those. But as far as I know no one has filed a bill with the recommendations. I am sure they will be considered. I've met with Patricia on several occasions just to try to understand the proposals they are putting forth. But those are not in any type of bill form now and I don't know they will be.
Do you think there is more of an opportunity for people to have a meaningful participation in this discussion this year than last year? Because last year a lot of people felt shut out.
I think there has been a considerable amount. Of course the commissioner and his people have had meetings with the superintendents. They have had meetings with the teachers unions. I met with Sen. Wise earlier this morning. He has gone to a number of teacher meetings. But basically the SB 6 that we had last year, there were two main parts to it. One of them had to do with what we are calling teacher tenure. It's really service contracts, professional service contracts. And the other one had to do with performance pay. There has been widespread discussion of those two topics.
Are those things for sure going to happen this year?
I can't tell you anything for sure. I can tell you I don't think there's any question that we in the House will be looking at those topics.
What do you envision? What kinds of things do you think are important in that legislation? What does the House want?
Well, to say what the House wants, I don't know that I'm qualified. But I can tell you where I think we're heading, to some extent. But you've got to realize of course I've got to be consistent with what the leadership is looking for, what the governor's office is looking for. And we've got to be compatible with what the Senate is looking for. So I could tell you what I think is going to be the main frame of those issues. But it doesn't mean that's going to come out that way at the end of the day.
I want to know the way you describe it.
I think you're going to find an approach to teacher employment that will not be a tenure system. Now, will there be a probationary time? Will there be one year contracts? Three year contracts? All of that is up for discussion. But I do believe there will be an adjustment of the tenure system as we now know it.
Performance pay, I can only say at this moment it is very likely that how we come out will be fairly consistent with what the commissioner and others have negotiated with the federal government in the Race to the Top.
Are you concerned that there will be another outburst by teachers who are angry with what's going on that will stop things or make it more difficult to accomplish?
Hmmmm. Well, I don't speculate on what others might do. But I think it would be difficult for anyone to argue that there hasn't been widespread consultation with others on this issue, including teachers and the teachers union. My understanding was, they may not be in complete accord on tenure but I think they've reached some common ground on performance pay.
I know some districts are asking that you just do what Race to the Top says and just let it be a pilot program until you can see what works. Is that an idea that holds some water?
I have not heard that. I met with a group of superintendents and we had a pretty good discussion of the two topics along with several others. But I have not heard that as being a pilot program. I think we are beyond the pilot program time. I think we have got too many districts involved in Race to the Top. ... There was a relatively small number that didn't sign on in the final analysis. But it's like anything else. You're not going to please everybody. If we can come to agreement with the majority that's probably the best we can do. But I do believe that something definitely akin to what the Department of Education came up with -- I should say likely, I shouldn't say definitely -- in their Race to the Top program is where we'll start and it may be where we end up.
Do you think the collective bargaining rules and laws will stand in the way at all?
It's hard to say until you see how the bill is written in the final analysis if you would anticipate any conflict between the two. I would hope not. But I really don't know why it should. I think most of what you bargain for is still open for bargaining. But I think how people are paid and ... if we're talking about pay for performance to say we are going to pay for performance, I don't know that's a violation of any union collective bargaining standards. And I don't know that tenure is sacrosanct within the bargaining process. I don't know how many professions or organizations bargain away lifetime employment.
What about the issue of testing. That's another thing I've heard superintendents touch on, that they think kids are tested too much already. Do you think there's a way to do this without putting more testing on kids?
Well, I don't know. I don't know that I necessarily agree with the notion that there is too much testing already. Unless schools have changed dramatically since I went to one and I taught in one, we generally had tests at the end of each week. And we had tests at the end of each unit. The question is probably, are we going to have some sort of standardized tests as opposed to teacher-made tests. And I think you will see more. But a test is a test. If you're going to have a test at the end of each unit, I don't think it makes a world of difference if you're going to have a standardized test on that unit or if it's a teacher-made test. As long as the test relates to the curriculum.
Okay. What's the time frame going to be for all this? Is it going to be something that happens fast? Or will there be lots of debate and go to the end of the session?
That's a guess. ... Next week is not a committee week. The following week is a committee week. At the end of that week we should know pretty well, we'll at least be able to roll out some ideas and see where we are in relation to where the Senate is.