Pinellas teachers union leader was force in state education

Few people knew the ins and outs of Florida's arcane school funding system like Jade Moore, who led the Pinellas teachers union for 34 years.

Times (1977)

Few people knew the ins and outs of Florida's arcane school funding system like Jade Moore, who led the Pinellas teachers union for 34 years.

Few people knew the ins and outs of Florida's arcane school funding system like Jade Moore, who led the Pinellas teachers union for 34 years and used intellect, insistence and humor to become a force in Florida education.

In years when the formula didn't seem to produce enough money for the county's education needs — and there were many — Moore and associate superintendent Ron Stone would put their heads together to try to make the most of it.

"He was always very creative. His mind was always going," said Stone, one of scores of people who reacted Thursday after Moore, 61, died of complications from a stroke he suffered on Tuesday.

"Between the two of us," Stone said, "we could always come up with an answer to almost any complicated question."

Moore died at Mease Dunedin Hospital, where a doctor declared Wednesday evening that his brain had ceased to function. But he was not pronounced dead until 9:50 a.m. Thursday, giving family members time to gather at his bedside, said Sue Moore, his wife of 38 years.

Mrs. Moore said she found it striking that the brain went first because it was her husband's ability to reason and articulate and make strong arguments that made him so memorable.

"He was the most intelligent man I've ever met," she said.

Moore also suffered a stroke in January.

The family has scheduled a memorial service for 4 p.m. Jan. 3 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2001 Rainbow Drive in Clearwater.

Moore often could be counted on for his frank, colorful, frequently humorous and sometimes profane assessments of education issues — from the policies of former Gov. Jeb Bush (which he disdained) to merit pay for teachers to the superintendent's performance.

He was active in politics by virtue of being the executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, which represents the interests of 8,000 teachers and endorses candidates for public office. But Moore also was a keen political observer and a founding member of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, the group known for hosting and roasting politicians over lunch.

He was a staunch Democrat who made room in his life for those of other political persuasions.

"I probably met him back in the '70s," said Charlie Crist, Florida's Republican governor. "Because of politics and his involvement with campaigns over the years, I've come to love him and trust him. He's been a great adviser to me whether I was in the state senate, education commissioner or governor."

Asked how it was that Moore, who cried at the election of Barack Obama, had friends on both sides of the aisle, Crist said: "I think it's because he had such a great heart. He just truly cared about people, and he didn't care about partisanship."

In addition to bargaining with the district on teacher salaries, Moore's job was to advocate for teachers accused of wrongdoing or performance problems.

He also lobbied on behalf of teachers in Tallahassee, where he became known across the state. His knowledge of government finance landed him on Florida's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a panel created only once every two decades to study the state's tax code.

Lew Williams, a longtime administrator for Pinellas schools, remembered dealing with Moore when the district was about to fire a teacher.

"He would never try to strong-arm you," Williams said. "He would say things like, 'You can make this person one of the best employees in Pinellas.' In most cases, he was right. … He saved people instead of throwing them under the bus."

Jeff Wright, director of public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association, said he had known Moore since 1969.

It could be draining work toiling as an advocate before government agencies, Wright said.

"There's a lot of days when you wonder what the hell you are there for, and (Moore) would say, 'You've got to stay with it. Somebody has to be the voice of the people. You may not feel like you're making progress, but you've got to have the fight.' "

Born in Altoona, Pa., Moore grew up in Pinellas County and attended Belleair Elementary and Clearwater Junior High. He graduated from Clearwater High in 1965 and received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of South Florida.

He worked for several years as a Pinellas County teacher before becoming the union's director.

Moore worked with five superintendents, including Julie Janssen, a long-time Pinellas administrator whose candidacy he helped champion this summer over outside candidates from Miami and Orlando. He was convinced that the Pinellas school system did better under home-grown leaders.

One of them was Scott Rose, who served as superintendent from 1981 to 1990.

"He loved the profession of teaching; he was a great advocate for teachers," Rose said of Moore. "It would be very difficult in all honesty for a person to totally disagree with his points of view because he was a good advocate."

Toward the end of his life, Moore's successes included spearheading a push for a special property tax to enhance teacher salaries and fund art, music, reading and technology programs. Voters approved the tax in 2004 and renewed it in 2008.

More recently, the union under Moore successfully challenged a money-saving plan by the district to force middle school teachers to work an extra period for the same pay. An arbitrator ruled against the plan earlier this month.

Moore, however, had not been able to break through during the district's latest budget crisis. The union and the district are still bargaining on a new contract, and Pinellas teachers have not had a raise this year.

In his last interview on Monday, Moore was asked by the Times how he and district officials could view the same set of budget numbers so differently.

"They're obviously being conservative and we're obviously saying it ain't going to be as bad as (they say) it's going to be," Moore said. "I think the truth is somewhere in between. I just think it leans more toward our side than theirs."

Pinellas teachers union leader was force in state education 12/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 12:27pm]

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