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Teachers offer Crist quid pro quo on killing SB 6

Gov. Charlie Crist got some new supporters this week in his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

The question is whether he can keep them.

On Wednesday, teachers from Hillsborough County began canvassing neighborhoods on behalf of the Republican governor, urging voters to support him — as long as he vetoes the bill that would overhaul teacher tenure in Florida.

"I think the public wants to see teachers bonused for doing well, not penalized," said organizer Aron Zions, a U.S. history teacher at Pierce Middle School in Tampa. "Provide the carrot."

Many residents weren't home when he and a colleague knocked on doors in Carrollwood, and several were noncommittal.

"I can't promise anything," said Kenneth Latham, a registered Republican.

But down the street, Republican Alfred Wang said he was appalled by what he described as an assault on teachers.

"If Crist is a man, he should veto this," said Wang, an engineer trained at Rutgers University. "Education is nothing like this."

Crist is getting lobbied hard from all quarters over Senate Bill 6, which would tie pay to student performance and end multiple-year contracts for teachers. If he decides on a veto, he must do so by midnight Friday.

Republicans such as former House Speaker Marco Rubio — who is challenging Crist in the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez — support the measure. But officials from Crist's home region of Tampa Bay have strong feelings, too.

Pinellas County school superintendent Julie Janssen sought a personal meeting last Friday with Crist, and asked him to kill SB 6. She said the bill would cost districts money they don't have, and chip away at local control.

"There are so many good points to it," Janssen said. "We do need to look at how we do teacher evaluations. I don't think anyone is opposed to pay for performance. But let's do it the right way. Let's make it fair."

Hillsborough would be sheltered from many aspects of the legislation, thanks to an exemption intended to preserve its seven-year, $100 million partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But the district's teachers would not be exempted from a requirement that they demonstrate student growth in four out of five years in order to gain recertification, said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association union.

"Hillsborough teachers are not insulated from SB 6," she said. "It won't matter if you have tenure if you don't get recertified."

While her union supported the gradual reforms outlined in the Gates grant, it opposes SB 6, Clements told Crist in a phone conversation Monday.

"He listened very respectfully," she said. "He didn't commit to anything. But I think in light of all the evidence and the overwhelming opposition to SB 6, I think it would be hard for him not to veto it."

Crist was not just seeking input from the opposition as he neared a decision. He also turned to some of the bill's biggest supporters for insight.

Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith was on his way to a news conference Tuesday when he got a call on his personal cell phone. He was needed at the governor's office.

"When we've been getting questions, if (Smith) can respond to them and provide answers, that's what he does," Department of Education spokesman Tom Butler said.

Even Aubrey Ambrosio, a Pasco County elementary school teacher with a friend on Crist's campaign staff, got a call from the governor.

She, too, requested a veto.

"It's just discouraging as a teacher, what is going on right now," said Ambrosio, 27. "I told him I always have supported him and I hoped I could continue to support him."

"He didn't say yes. He didn't say no," she recalled. "It was good to know he wanted to hear what I had to say. That alone was a little bit reassuring."

Times staff writers Ron Matus and Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Teachers offer Crist quid pro quo on killing SB 6 04/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 11:27pm]
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