Gov. Rick Scott's invitation-only education listening tour is scheduled to come to Pinellas County this week. But it's already prompting skeptical reactions in the Tampa Bay area from some of the very people Scott said he wants to hear from.
Lynne Webb, president of the teachers union in Pasco County, called it a listening "tour de farce" in which "you're picking and choosing what you want to hear from the get-go."
Kim Black, president of the Pinellas County teachers union, said a true listening tour would be open to the public, much like the tour that former state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson held earlier this year.
"I think that people will see right through this as a political attempt to shape the message," Black said.
Melanie Marquez, Pinellas district spokeswoman, said the tour will include a stop at Madeira Beach Fundamental School on Wednesday afternoon. She said details were still being worked out. More information is expected today.
Like many other school and union leaders, Webb and Black suggested that the governor is trying to deflect criticism about education issues during his term, such as hefty cuts to funding, problems with the state's testing system and a new merit pay law that does away with teacher tenure and ties performance evaluations to student test scores.
During Robinson's tour, in which he appeared at public venues in the evening, he often faced hostile crowds and heated complaints from people outraged about problems with the FCAT, as well as the pace of change to the state's accountability system.
In contrast, Scott's private tour will be held in public schools. The public and the media aren't invited.
Some school leaders, though, were inclined to be optimistic.
Candy Olson, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board, said, "I hope the governor sincerely listens and takes into counsel what he hears."
Hernando County superintendent Bryan Blavatt called it a "great step."
"If you don't listen, you can't get started," he said.
— Times Staff Writers