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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Merit pay should mirror district goals

From the Florida Tribune

by Kim MacQueen

It was Teacher Merit Pay Day in the Florida Legislature Wednesday as both the House and Senate hosted members and visitors to help flesh out "Son of Senate Bill 6" as it's drafted.

The measure currently under discussion in both houses would use as a blueprint a plan developed by Foundation for Florida's Future Executive Director Patricia Levesque in concert with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and other education officials. A more moderate version of last year's controversial SB 6, the plan calls for teacher pay to be predicated on performance and student learning gains. It also calls for annual contracts for new teachers and three-year contract renewals for veteran teachers, and stipulates that pay increases can only be given to teachers deemed "effective" or "highly effective."

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed SB 6, but Gov. Rick Scott has said he will support similar legislation.

Legislators have already heard suggestions from Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith and others that this year's bill should closely mirror the district goals already in place under the national Race to the Top grant program. Senate Education PreK-12 Committee Chair Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, indicated today that he's gotten the message. As it heads into bill drafting, Wise said he's calling it the "Race to the Top" bill.

Among those testifying Wednesday included Kay McGannon, advocacy director for the organization Stand for Children in Colorado, where a similar measure passed last year, as well as district representatives who warned legislators to tread with care.

"You have got to get buy-in not just from teachers, but from every employee," said Pasco Schools Superintendent Heather Fiorentino. She also asked legislators to "make sure it's fully funded" and "make sure it doesn't add additional strain" to districts in tight budget times.

A House panel heard from Smith, Florida Association of District School Superintendents representative Joy Frank, Florida Education Association President Andy Ford and others for nearly three hours of testimony on how to best craft the bill.

Ford indicated that collaboration and local solutions are keys to the success of educational reform, noting that "I don't believe we should demolish the system we have in place. It needs some fine tuning. I don't believe we should accept that our public schools are failing because I don't think that's true."

Smith pointed to comprehensive evaluation as key to making the bill work. Speaking specifically about the current process for teacher evaluations that lead to removal, he said "it's very cumbersome, frequently confrontational, lengthy and often leads to lawsuits."

"Evaluation is central to how we proceed," he said.

Originally published in the Florida Current - exclusively distributed via Lobbytools - Florida's Premiere Legislative and Media Monitoring Service.

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