Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco teachers rally against latest government education initiatives

LAND O'LAKES — In her 28 years with Pasco County schools, guidance counselor Monica Capabianco kept her focus on students.

This year, she's become keenly aware of politics.

Proposals in the Florida Legislature to rewrite retirement policies for state employees captured her attention. Shifts in the way the state would calculate pensions, among other possible changes, would take Capabianco's retirement pay from a decent $27,000 per year to a paltry $15,000.

"I would be on food stamps," she said. "I think I deserve better than that after dedicating my life to Florida kids."

In response, Capabianco is joining the swelling ranks of Pasco and Florida teachers who are no longer willing to take whatever the government does without a peep.

Whether they're opposed to a far-reaching revamp of teacher pay, evaluations and contracts, angry about efforts to subvert voters' intent with the 2002 class size amendment or frustrated by a continued redirection of education funding into private-school vouchers, many educators have decided to stand up and be heard — many for the first time.

The Republicans pushing these initiatives have said their intent is not to punish teachers, but to improve the quality of teachers in the classroom. But teachers like Capabianco say the measures will have the opposite effect.

They've stood in the rain, as Capabianco did last weekend, to berate Gov. Charlie Crist over some of the concepts that are likely headed to his desk. They've written letters, participated in protests, signed petitions.

More activism is coming, even though many education professionals have all but abandoned hope that the Republican-led Legislature will hear their pleas for reconsideration.

"You are hoping they are hearing what you are saying," said Capabianco, who has worked at Gulfside Elementary since it opened 26 years ago. "You're talking about peoples' lives here."

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between this year and past years, when other major attempts to overhaul the public school system didn't spark as much action from the rank and file who work in the schools.

United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb sees the distinctions between the years when then-governor Jeb Bush shepherded the first A-Plus education plan into existence and now.

Back then, Webb said, the rhetoric of "blame the teachers" came into vogue.

"But to be honest with you, I think teachers realized we had to make some changes," she said. "We wanted to be a part of it."

Now, though, Florida has been heralded as a model of school accountability. And instead of being thanked for helping with all the improvements and gains, teachers feel they're being blamed again and targeted for what many consider as punishment.

A bill that would take away professional service contracts for new teachers and base half their pay on student results, among other things, has gotten their particular ire. It doesn't help that the bill, sponsored by the same Sen. John Thrasher who pushed Jeb Bush's A-Plus plan as speaker of the House, has been flying through its committee stops with almost no acknowledgement of the teachers' efforts or concerns.

"They feel like they are not just being smacked in the face, but kicked and crushed," Webb said. And with their livelihoods on the line, she said, "they are scared and they are angry."

David Lammie, a ninth-year social studies teacher at Chasco Middle School, said he has grown tired of standing idly by while state lawmakers degrade his job and the system that educates Florida children.

He's a National Board certified teacher at an A-rated school in an A-rated school district, and he said he fails to see why lawmakers would paint what he does with the same broad brush they are using to describe underperforming teachers, schools and students.

"Many of us are doing a great job," he said. "There should be a targeted approach to specific needs. … I, as a teacher, feel the Legislature doesn't understand the complexity of the problem."

After reviewing all the intricacies, and the way the Legislature is handling them, Lammie decided to step up. He's been writing letters to lawmakers and preparing for pickets.

"We've kind of taken one for the team for years," Lammie said. "I tell my kids, government only works when you speak up for your rights. Well, I am speaking up for my rights and the rights of my students. I think teachers are really starting to find their voice."

West Zephyrhills Elementary third-grade teacher Lisa Mazza among them.

A teacher for more than 25 years, Mazza has already traveled to Tallahassee to urge lawmakers not to adopt some of the bills that she considers draconian, such as the one dealing with teacher pay, evaluations and contracts.

She organized a "wear red for education" day at her school last week and is putting together a letter-writing campaign on the pending legislation. After having seen her own children succeed in a strong school system, Mazza said, she's "just not sure where this attack on the system is coming from."

Changes moving through the Legislature could pit teachers against one another for a shrinking pot of money, she said, noting that Pasco teachers have gone without raises for two straight years and don't expect any for next year, either.

"I was always excited about being part of a school system. We had the best practices in place, and collaboration," she said. "For us to face all of that going away, that doesn't even make sense."

People have to organize, she said, or else face certain defeat.

Optimism isn't high. But still, teachers said, giving up can't be the option.

"We need to let them know … teachers are Republicans, we're Democrats. We're Americans," Capabianco said. "And this is about kids and what is best for them."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

xxxxxx xxx

What's on tap?

The United School Employees of Pasco has several ways that its members are fighting against various measures moving through the Florida Legislature. They include:

• A petition drive, ongoing

• A postcard campaign, ongoing

• Letter writing to lawmakers, ongoing

• Informational pickets at lawmakers' district offices, 4:30 p.m. Thursday

• Lobbying in Tallahassee, weekly until the end of session

aking a stand

What's on tap?

The United School Employees of Pasco has several ways that its members are fighting against various measures moving through the Florida Legislature. They include:

• A petition drive, ongoing

• A postcard campaign, ongoing

• Letter writing to lawmakers, ongoing

• Informational pickets at lawmakers' district offices, 4:30 p.m. Thursday

• Lobbying in Tallahassee, weekly until the end of session

Pasco teachers rally against latest government education initiatives 03/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 27, 2010 2:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Danny Rolling killed five in Gainesville 27 years ago this week


    The following story appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on October 26, 2006, the day after Danny Rollings was put to death. Also included are photos covering the period from the time of the murders to the day of Rollings execution.

    Rolling Executed

  2. Hernando commissioners propose tax-rate reduction as budget talks continue

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The typical budget battle between the Hernando County Commission and Sheriff Al Nienhuis has largely been averted this summer, except for a dust-up over how the sheriff has accounted for federal inmate money. But a minor skirmish did break out this week.

    Hernando County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes has suggested a small rollback in the proposed property tax rate for the 2017-18 fiscal year and proposes that it be equally shared by the county's operations and the sheriff.
  3. Trigaux: As Florida seeks top 10 status as best business state, red flag rises on workforce


    In the eternal quest to appeal more to business than other states, Florida's managed to haul itself out of some pretty mediocre years. After scoring an impressive 8 among 50 states way back in 2007, Florida suffered horribly during and immediately after the recession. Its rank sank as low as No. 30 only four years ago, …

    Florida's trying to make strides in preparing its high school and college graduates for the rapidly changing skill sets of today's workforce. But the latest CNBC ranking of the best and worst states for business gave Florida poor marks for education, ranking No. 40 (tied with South Carolina for education) among the 50 states. Still, Florida ranked No. 12 overall in the best business states annual ranking. [Alan Berner/Seattle Times]
  4. Florida: White man who killed black person to be executed

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with help of a drug that has never been used previously in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]
  5. Ex-TPD sergeant LaJoyce Houston takes plea deal in stolen tax refund case


    TAMPA — LaJoyce Houston, a former Tampa police sergeant accused with her husband in a federal tax refund fraud scheme, has agreed to plead guilty to receiving stolen government property, court records state.

    Former Tampa police officers Eric and LaJoyce Houston walk into the Sam Gibbons U.S. District Courthouse on Oct. 28, 2015, to face charges relating to stolen identity tax refund fraud. [SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES