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Florida legislators' lesson to us: Don't become a teacher

There used to be a running joke in the household that the offspring could grow up to be whatever they wanted. Except lawyers.

The justifications were plentiful: Too many attorneys; too few clients and too heavy a debt load from law school. Not to mention the sentiment from William Shakespeare.

Sadly, the list of unlikely future professions is getting longer and, since the first week of the legislative session in Tallahassee, has grown to include the very honorable livelihood of a member of the household — public school teacher.

This is what Pasco's current middle and high school teachers are looking at:

• A 20 percent increase in their workload and the elimination of daily planning time.

• A cut in pay after two consecutive years of not receiving previously negotiated salary increases.

• Losing their jobs.

As many as 329 teaching jobs could be gone if the Pasco School Board follows a suggestion to require secondary school teachers to teach six classes a day instead of five. It's projected to save $12 million, and is the largest single proposal put forth to help close a budget shortfall expected to run at least twice that much. Actual figures won't be known until the Legislature finishes writing a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, but ideas kicked around School Board workshops include: Eliminating a nonteaching staff position at every school; dropping driver's education; eliminating or reducing supplements paid to athletic directors, coaches and team leaders; cutting out middle school and junior varsity sports; making employees pay more for their health/dental insurance and an across-the-board pay cut of 1 percent.

To sum it up, that is more work, less pay, lousier benefits and fewer opportunities to earn extra money. Sure makes an attractive recruiting tool to lure new teachers. And did we mention, there's a push to change the retirement benefits, too?

The dismal financial picture confronting local school districts — triggered by reduced property values, an election-year Legislature reticent to allow tax increases, and the cost of implementing fully the class-size amendment — isn't the worst of it.

Consider the fate awaiting future teachers under legislation known as Senate Bill 6 that has been approved by the Senate and is expected to be voted upon by the full House of Representatives this week. The bill means no job security, half of your annual evaluation and all of your re-certification capabilities tied to students' standardized test performance, no incentive for obtaining advanced degrees and, oh yeah, no salary increases for the foreseeable future. That's because 5 percent of the annual school district budget — the one already looking minimally at a $26 million shortfall — must be set aside for a performance fund and for developing the tests needed to measure students' progress.

How much is 5 percent? If you use the overall district budget of $1.2 billion, that's $60 million. Or, take the amount of salary and benefit money in the district's general fund and that is $350 million. Even using that figure, which accounts for only 90 percent of the payroll and does not include other operating expenses like capital, transportation, and overhead, the district still must set aside $17.5 million to implement SB 6.

It's an exorbitant figure magnified by 67 school districts that must devise and implement start-of-the-school-year and end-of-the-school-year tests for every subject at every grade level to gauge student learning.

Forget teaching. With tens of millions of dollars floating around every school district, the offspring need to become test developers. Imagine the person who must devise a measurement for Duck, Duck Goose proficiency among kindergarten pupils. Someone's going to have to do it since kindergarten physical education standards will get the same level of scrutiny as fourth-grade writing and eighth-grade science.

Only in Tallahassee does such logic make sense.

The teaching ranks will be thinner because of SB 6. Sure, it will ferret out the underperformers, but good educators will leave public service, too. Newly minted college graduates won't be clamoring to enter the classroom either, not with the job security of tenure removed.

Yes, the offspring will have to find other career avenues. But, after listening to the dinner table conversations of late, I suspect there is another job they've crossed off their lists: Florida legislator.

Florida legislators' lesson to us: Don't become a teacher 04/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 7:30pm]
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