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Gov. Rick Scott rallies teachers in 'pay raise victory tour'

It may have escaped your attention, but Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign began in earnest Monday.

The official title: Teacher Pay Raise Victory Tour.

The first stop was Piper High in Sunrise, in the heart of Broward, the biggest Democratic county in Florida. The school rolled out the red carpet for Scott with a performance by its proud marching band.

"What a great school, and what a great band!" Scott told an auditorium filled with cheering students.

From there, Scott headed to an elementary school in West Palm Beach, followed by a visit to one of his favorite schools, Nease High in Ponte Vedra Beach. That's the alma mater of quarterback Tim Tebow, recipient of a "Great Floridian" award from Scott just days before the New York Jets released him.

At all three schools, Scott repeated a simple message: Teachers in Florida are great and they deserve a $2,500 pay raise. He'll hammer home the theme in Tampa on Friday.

Scott is disciplined and always on point. With the support of his improved communications shop, this is the core of his strategy: Reward teachers and hope they see him as a champion of education.

It's a challenge for Scott, because in his first year as governor he proposed a big cut in school spending, then made teachers contribute 3 percent of their pay toward their pensions. After a statewide school listening tour, he changed his tune.

As Florida's improving economy generated billions in new tax revenue, Scott first called for the across-the-board teacher pay raise on Jan. 23. The Legislature agreed to spend $480 million after attaching the raises to pay-for-performance plans, making the bigger paychecks subject to negotiations between union locals and school boards.

Here's where Scott's promise of a $2,500 raise is not only premature, but misleading, in the view of Kim Black, president of the Pinellas County Teachers Association.

"There are so many details yet to be released," she said, "and false information is not in the best interests of the people."

Teacher pay scales are negotiated in percentage increases known as steps, not in round numbers. Black said a step increase in Pinellas equates to a raise of 1.5 percent, or from $500 to $700 per teacher per year.

Black said Scott's "talking point" of a precise $2,500 pay increase for every teacher probably won't work out that way in reality.

"I would say teachers are fed up with being used as political pawns," Black said. "Teachers are very cautious and skeptical."

Scott is a Republican, and teachers unions are a bulwark of the Democratic Party. As for individual teachers, they are Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Yes, they will take the pay raises Scott pushed lawmakers to approve.

But whether that translates into supporting Scott is another question.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Rick Scott rallies teachers in 'pay raise victory tour' 05/06/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 6:33pm]
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