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Monday, February 21, 2011

Tunisia, Egypt, Wisconsin, Florida

From the St. Petersburg Times

by Ron Matus

Opposition is heating up statewide as the Florida Legislature closes in on monumental changes to the teaching profession.

On popular blogs, some teachers are even pushing for Florida to follow Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of protesters have descended on the state Capitol.

If some of the current legislative proposals don't change, "Do I believe public employees will descend on Tallahassee? Yes," said Kim Black, president of the Pinellas teachers union. "It could be a hurricane, we just don't know what category yet. People are organizing."

The Pinellas teachers union has scheduled a "save our public schools rally" in Pinellas on March 4, the Friday before the legislative session begins on March 8, while other local teachers unions are planning similar events. Rallies to support teachers, firefighters and police officers are being organized around the state for March 8.

"Our students don't understand the constant bullying of their teachers and quite frankly, neither do we," says a flier for the rally in Pinellas, which is slated for the same intersections that hundreds of teachers flocked to last year to protest Senate Bill 6.

SB 6 — passed by the Legislature and vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist — would have dramatically changed how teachers are hired, fired, paid and evaluated. Gov. Rick Scott has said he would have signed it, and a new version is moving fast through legislative committees.

Lawmakers will also consider requiring teachers, police officers and other state and county workers to chip in up to 5 percent of their pay towards their pensions.

Florida teachers are closely watching events in Wisconsin. Many Wisconsin schools have closed because teachers are attending the rallies. Schools in Madison closed last week after 1,000 teachers called in sick.

So far, legislation to curb collective bargaining rights has not surfaced in Florida. But in a 20-page list of proposals, Scott's education transition team recommended that teacher evaluations be removed from the bargaining process, and that bargaining be limited to salaries and benefits.

The Florida Constitution recognizes the right of employees to bargain collectively.

Ron Matus can be reached at or (727) 893-8873.

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