Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 7189 have been described as "good for teachers" by Senate sponsor John Thrasher. But are they?
Let's look at teachers. This "good" bill has not found too many teachers who support it. A Florida Times-Union reporter did not find a single supporter from a dozen or so teachers of the year in Northeast Florida. I have not found one supporter in the schools I have visited in Pinellas in the last four weeks. In fact, the outrage of teachers in every school district in Florida is like none I have experienced in 40 years in education as a teacher and on the staff of a local or state teachers union.
While the two bills cover much ground, I want to concentrate on funding and performance pay. In a response to teachers who have concerns about House Bill 7189, House Speaker Larry Cretul replies, "First, House Bill 7189 will not reduce teacher salaries. No teachers will have a pay cut as a result of this proposal. This legislation proposes to increase pay by recognizing that additional compensation should be based on results achieved by teachers, not the amount of time they have taught."
While there may not be a reduction in salary, there is no money for an increase. Most school districts have had little or no pay increases in two years. The House 2010-11 budget reduces the funding formula per student. To make any plan to increase pay work, there must be money. The Legislature's recent record comes up short, and pay reductions may be inevitable.
Cretul's reply states, "This legislation also sets aside over $900 million to reward teachers who teach in either high-poverty or low-performing schools, high-demand subjects such as math and sciences or those who teach students with disabilities. This money is in addition to a teacher's current salary."
The Performance Fund for Instructional Personnel and School-Based Administrators established in the bill for the 2011-12 school year does set aside 5 percent of the total state, local and federal funding, which is about $900 million. But this is not new money to a district but part of the existing allocation. Cretul should read his own bill, because the money is for much more than he singles out. It is for performance pay for all teachers, end-of-course exams and the appraisal system.
In Pinellas, the Performance Fund would exceed $40 million. This is $40 million taken from funding we presently use for salaries, transportation, instructional materials and the list goes on. It is ironic, but the 2011-12 date coincides with the end of federal stimulus funds, leaving the district with a $51 million funding gap. The total, $91 million, exceeds 10 percent of the Pinellas County schools' operating budget. I don't believe there will be any performance pay any time soon unless we reduce other employees' salaries or jobs. The district has already lost 7 to 8 percent in funds per student since May 2007.
Some legislators tout these bills as being congruent with the Race to the Top grant and that funding from the grant would support the legislation. Pinellas County Schools would receive about $7 million of non-recurring funds for four years if we receive Race to the Top funding. If all those funds were used to reward 50 percent of Pinellas teachers, a one-time "performance" raise of about 3.3 percent ($1,500) could be generated. After four years, the funding would have to be replaced or the "performance" raise would disappear.
The Legislature has not found the right prescription for performance pay nor will they until teachers play a real role in the process. Maybe Thrasher should ask teachers what is good for them. For now, SB 6 and HB 7189 are bitter pills.
Marshall Ogletree is executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.