The election of Gov. Rick Scott has prompted many conversations among Florida school districts about whether teachers unions and the things they stand for are endangered species. Scott's comments have focused on weeding out bad teachers, eliminating many employment protections and scaling back some benefits such as pensions. Some union leaders have started talking compromise. Others plan to fight back. Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Kim Black spoke with Times staff writer Jeff Solochek about unions, politics and Florida's future.
What is the future for Florida teachers and their unions?
The role of the union has obviously changed, but the main role is to advocate for the workers. … Every county is different and every county has different needs and different student populations. That's why we continue to fight for local control, because we believe the citizens of the community and the students we serve know best the needs that they have.
What percentage of teachers do you have as members that actually pay and participate?
PCTA membership is at 53.5 percent.
Do you think if lawmakers take away tenure it will gut what you have?
Well, that is a real misunderstanding that people have with the word "tenure." Teachers don't have tenure. What they have is the right to due process or the right to a fair dismissal, if you will. And that's all we're asking for — the right to recruit, retain and the right to a fair dismissal, a fair hearing, a voice in the process. In an ideal situation in the state of Florida, every employee would have that right, not just in education. … You shouldn't be able to be terminated without being able to state your case.
Is there a middle ground? Does there need to be some sort of new evaluation system, new contracting or certification system?
I haven't met a teacher who appreciates the current evaluation system that we have. Here in Pinellas we have worked with our administration to develop a new evaluation system that's not so subjective. It is being piloted in the schools that are under the differentiated accountability model. But I think it's important to look at what that means. … There is room for improvement. There is room for growth. We can bring people back together and look at what is working and what's not working.