Florida's Senate Bill 6 discourages teaching careers

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.

In Pasco County, 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 consecutive years of not receiving previously negotiated salary increases and losing their jobs. As many as 329 teaching jobs could be gone if the district requires secondary school teachers to teach six classes a day instead of five.

In Hernando County, such detailed budget-cutting proposals haven't been revealed publicly, but the board already rolled the dice and declined to eliminate 46 positions, a plan that had been intended to help the district save $4.6 million. Instead, the board is angling for voter approval of recalculating class-size requirements.

Actual dollar figures won't be known until the Legislature finishes writing a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, but don't be surprised if more serious cost-cutting ideas are on the horizon. Asking parents to help pay for middle school sports is under discussion. But, the biggest portion of any school district's budget is salary and benefits. The Hernando School Board had to dip into its reserves to finance a teachers' raise two years ago and last year could only pay for a minimal increase toward rising health insurance premiums. (One of the ideas under consideration in Pasco is a 1 percent across-the-board pay cut.)

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 to be voted upon by the full House of Representatives. The bill means no job security, half of your annual evaluation and all of your recertification 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 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 Hernando School District budget of $209 million, that's nearly $10.5 million. Or, take the amount of the general fund set aside for teaching and school-based programs, $148 million, and you still have to come up with $7.4 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's Senate Bill 6 discourages teaching careers 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 8:15pm]

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