Teacher annual contract guarantees go against legislative intent, original sponsor says
News that Pinellas County teachers recently won new annual contract protections for well-rated performance reinvigorated Pasco County teachers who have sought the same terms for three straight years.
If Pinellas will guarantee employment for educators with "effective" or "highly effective" ratings, they reasoned, why can't Pasco? The United School Employees of Pasco has delayed bargaining while pressing the issue in more public settings.
Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning has insisted that districts shouldn't be taking the step that Pinellas and others have adopted.
"I don't know how these districts are doing that, in light of what the Legislature intended when they did away with tenure," Browning said. "If you were a professional service contract employee, you had certain protections. They said after this date there are no more professional service contracts for new employees."
The law currently defines "annual contract" as "an employment contract for a period of no longer than 1 school year which the district school board may choose to award or not award without cause."
Former state senator John Legg, an original sponsor of Senate Bill 6 in 2010, said Browning is "100 percent right. ... The intent was very clear -- No automatic renewals."
Then-governor Charlie Crist vetoed the much criticized SB 6, which aimed to eliminate continuing teacher contracts along with altering the way teachers are hired, paid and evaluated. The issues returned the following year in a slightly altered version called Senate Bill 736, which Gov. Rick Scott made his first-ever bill signing.
Legg noted that in both years, lawmakers specifically voted down amendments that would have provided the protections that districts are now offering. Rep. Mia Jones proposed one in 2010 to create a "performance contract" guaranteeing a one-year renewal for teachers rated effective or highly effective. Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed put forth one in 2011 saying districts "shall" offer annual contracts to teachers who have not received two evaluations of unsatisfactory, and who are recommended by the superintendent.
The Florida Education Association "was strongly advocating for that provision, and we rejected it," Legg said. "It basically continued tenure."
He added that lawmakers anticipated that, if the language were put in place, districts could manipulate evaluation systems to control the numbers of teachers at each rating level. He noted that the Orange school district recently announced changes to its system for exactly that purpose, to increase numbers of "highly effective" teachers.
Legg said he has spoken with influential lawmakers who are returning to the Legislature, and anticipated "clarifying legislation" against the annual contract guarantees, "if in fact it isn't illegal now. ... Lawyers can find ways to navigate around statutes."
Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the Florida Education Association, defended the agreements like those in Pinellas.
"Nothing prevents a school district, when negotiating the 'wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment,' which the Constitution requires to be negotiated (Article I, Section 6, Constitution of Florida), and in the exercise of its constitutional duty to 'operate, control and supervise' district schools [Article IX, Section 4(b), Constitution of Florida], to agree to a contractual provision which recognizes successful performance in this manner," he said via email. "It is surprising, with the zeal the Legislature has had to tie continued employment to successful performance, that anyone would argue against the use of successful performance as the standard to be used by a school district in determining to award a new annual contract."
No bills have yet been filed.