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Ranks split over union chief's style

At the Silver Slipper on a recent night, Pinellas teachers union executive Jade Moore played the gracious host. He was in a private room at Tallahassee's venerable dealmaking restaurant, drinking scotch and ordering bites of rib-eye steak and bacon-wrapped shrimp for a dozen teachers, School Board members and legislators.

As the executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association for almost three decades, Moore has cultivated a reputation as a straight-talking liberal who dishes out four-letter zingers.

Yet he doesn't like to make enemies. So in Tallahassee, Moore publicly thanked "the good guys." Privately, often profanely, he attacked "the bad guys."

"You don't score points by taking a dump on these guys," said Moore, 54.

Some Pinellas teachers want to see more of Moore's biting private side.

They want him to be more critical of superintendent Howard Hinesley and his administration. They want him to press the School Board for more pay and less paperwork. They want him to act like an outsider fighting the establishment.

About 300 teachers recently formed their own group, Teachers United For the Future, to get done what they think Moore and the union do not.

"It's a fairly well-known fact that Jade Moore and Howard Hinesley do spend time together on the golf course, outside of business hours," said Charles Taylor, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Tyrone Middle School who is a faculty representative for the union. "It needs to be us versus them."

Moore vehemently defends PCTA and his record.

"These bunch of people say they want me to be tougher," Moore said. "I got the School Board to spend $19-million they didn't have (on raises)."

And yes, Moore said, he golfs. But not with Hinesley. Hinesley doesn't golf.

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Moore was a 26-year-old English teacher when the union was hiring a director in 1974. The board of directors rejected each candidate. He volunteered.

Now Moore earns $86,900 a year and works without a contract. His raises are tied to those for teachers with master's degrees. The state union gives him $5,000 for his Tallahassee lobbying.

Moore oversees a $1.1-million union budget. Almost two-thirds goes to salaries, with $28,000 set aside for lobbying. The union is affiliated with other enterprises, such as a political action committee and a nonprofit subsidiary, the Learning Cooperative.

No union dues go to the Co-op, which opened last year to offer consulting services for other unions around the nation based on PCTA's expertise. The Co-op's only full-time employee, former union president Doug Tuthill, uses office space. Any profits will go toward student scholarship funds.

About two-thirds of eligible Pinellas school employees belong to the union. When Moore started, he says, one-third of eligible employees were members.

Among employees, there is a split over the union's style. In a survey by a union-hired consultant, 44 percent favor getting things done through training and involving teachers in decisions. About 47 percent favor an aggressive approach, including picketing.

Jana Maples, a teacher at Skyview Elementary School, remembers when the union couldn't get a straight answer about how much money was available for raises; Moore, she says, changed that.

"There are those of us that started teaching when the board wouldn't even speak to us or have coffee," Maples said.

On some defining issues, such as Hinesley's recent contract extension, the union has been publicly silent. Union leaders rarely appeared at board meetings to speak on the school choice plan, waiting until two weeks before a key vote to publish a newspaper column against it.

In each case, Moore said, union officials worked behind the scenes. He said he saw no point in publicly condemning Hinesley or the board during the debate over the superintendent's raise. He said he talked to board members privately.

"I'm not paid to sit there and be obnoxious. I am paid to get results," Moore said. "The real enemy is not Howard Hinesley and the School Board. The real enemy is the governor and his lackeys in the Legislature. I need their support to get a new governor elected. I don't get that by taking shots at them."

What results has this gotten teachers?

Moore is proud the district still absorbs increasing health care costs. The teachers contract is settled every spring. He said the board has made raises a priority, even in tough times.

In 2001-2002, when Pinellas got $16-million less from the state than the previous year, teachers got an average increase of 2.7 percent, plus a one-time, state-mandated $850 bonus.

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Moore is well-read, yet has a notoriously short attention span. The combination makes for a train of thought that repeatedly jumps track.

In a recent 10-minute span in his Seminole office, he lambasted the Bush-era education culture wherein schools give students prizes for their test performance. He spoke philosophically about Israel. He helped a teacher deal with a disruptive student. He took a call from the union's lawyer.

Every spring, his other office is the state Capitol.

Moore travels to Tallahassee two or three days a week during the legislative session. He drops into offices to gab about parties, kids, sports and gossip. He seeks promises on votes.

In the Capitol's sea of dark suits, Moore stands out. He's a big guy at 6-foot-3, with a booming voice and an infectious laugh that makes his face redden.

As he ambles, he offers impromptu commentary, using words that could get a Pinellas student in trouble. Even as he acknowledges his potty mouth, he talks about teaching Sunday school at Trinity Presbyterian Church for 12 years.

He gives teachers who come up to lobby this advice: "Don't take much of their time. Be specific. Don't argue. . . . I always tell them they've got a vote and you don't."

Each week, Moore visited all but two members of the Pinellas delegation: Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Leslie Waters, R-Seminole.

"We always put people against them," Moore said. "They have reason not to like us."

This year, Moore says his main goal is simple: Unseat Jeb Bush, elect Bill McBride. It is the only way, he says, to pull the state out of a tailspin.

Moore won't say when he'll be ready to retire. It could happen if McBride wins. Then, he said with a smirk, he might like to be education commissioner.

_ Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Stephen Hegarty contributed to this report.