The mutual gratitude comes in heavy ladles. It is standard procedure at these annual legislative delegation meetings.
People are thanked for coming. Thanked for listening. Thanked for speaking. Thanked for being polite. Thanked for providing information. Thanked for directing state dollars to a favored project/program and thanked for not cutting sacred cows.
There is so much thanks, the only missing is a parade and roast turkey.
Monday afternoon, Pasco's state legislators gathered at the River Ridge High School/Middle School complex and extended the appreciative atmosphere with one notable exclusion. They failed to thank the people with the thankless job.
Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, acknowledged Pasco School superintendent Heather Fiorentino for the yeoman's work of the school district in stretching resources. Nehr suggested Pasco can be a model for others to emulate. It's not like the district had much of a choice. It eliminated 513 jobs and forced furloughs (pay cuts) on its employees to make up for state aid that is down $780 per pupil from four years ago. Nobody mentioned the $21 million in cuts that still must be identified because of expiring stimulus dollars or the millions of additional dollars that may be sent back to Tallahassee because current enrollment is below expectations.
Nehr said he was particularly impressed with Pasco's eSchool success rate. Pasco's virtual school shows a 94 percent completion rate for its students compared to 74 percent for the Florida Virtual School. Fiorentino accepted the gratitude and passed it along by, among other things, complimenting the School Board and pointing to the district's strategic plan.
Yet neither she nor Nehr bothered to publicly thank the teachers. Neither did the other legislators. Guess the kids completing 94 percent of their online classes are doing it without assistance. That would be a pretty neat trick considering the eSchool curriculum includes 19 advanced placement subjects.
Slighting public educators is nothing new for the Republican-controlled Legislature, but at least they heard a counter point.
Fifth-grade teacher Anthony Terranova, a former Pasco School Board candidate, shared several ideas including a minimum statewide annual wage for teachers of $40,000 to start and up to $60,000 with 10 years experience in order to attract scientists, engineers and mathematicians who opt for better-paying careers.
Ken Blankenship of the United School Employees of Pasco pointed out that the school workers' 3 percent contribution to the state pension plan removed $8.5 million from the Pasco economy, $75 million from the Tampa Bay region and nearly $340 million statewide.
Michael Maynard, an AP English Teacher at River Ridge, highlighted the flawed logic of the Legislature's penny-pinching methodology that gives a financial incentive to teachers whose students pass the Advanced Placement exam. The state caps the bonus at $2,000, or the equivalent of 40 students, regardless of how many pass the exam. It contradicts the public rhetoric about excellence in education.
"I'm the excellence and you want to short-change me over nickels and dimes,'' Maynard said.
In all, 37 people, including 10 in elected or appointed public office, addressed the legislative delegation, but a "why bother?'' sentiment was prevalent as well. A dozen speakers who registered in advance for their three minutes of face time failed to appear, including a county commissioner and a member of a lobbying firm retained by Pasco County. On the auditorium stage, Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill was a no show, as he has been in the past, and Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, arrived tardy to the delegation meeting for the third consecutive year.
Perhaps the most telling commentary came from widely respected Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.
"We've got enough laws,'' McCabe told the legislators. "We can deal with most anything. We don't need any new laws.''
Jim Ciadella of the school union repeated it later.
"Leave education alone. We have enough laws. We have enough bills.''
The message to Tallahassee, after so much spoken gratitude, was hard to miss.
But, no thanks.