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Friday, March 18, 2011

Signs that teacher bill moved too quickly?

From the St. Petersburg Times Gradebook

by Patricia Mazzie

Though the Florida House gave the final OK to a major teacher pay and tenure overhaul bill Wednesday, questions about the bill were still coming up at a Senate panel Thursday.

The questions were striking because they came up at the Pre-K-12 budget subcommittee, where presumably members are better versed on education issues than some of their other Senate colleagues -- unless the senators in the panel were just trying to make a point.

Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, the only Democrat to vote for Senate Bill 736 last week, questioned state Education Commissioner Eric Smith about one of the principal tenets of the legislation: basing half of a teacher's evaluation on student test scores.

"What's the other 50 percent of this evaluation going to be based on?" Siplin asked.

Answer: It will be up to school districts to determine the remaining portion of the evaluation.

Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, one of two Republicans to vote against the bill, also asked questions of Smith -- namely, why the legislation was necessary if the state was already granted $700 million from the federal Race to the Top program to reform how teachers are evaluated and paid.

"Does that mean the legislation we just passed was not necessary for us to participate in Race to the Top funding?" she asked.

Answered Smith: "Race to the Top dollars will go a long way in furthering the implementation of 736. They are absolutely in alignment and support one another."

Asked Dockery: "So where will the performance-pay dollars come from?" And, later: "Does that mean then that some teachers will get paid less?"

Some teachers will be paid less than other teachers, Smith said -- but there are no plans to pay them less than they make now. And the merit pay system won't rely on new money, he added, but on restructuring the existing salary scale.

"We're not here to rehash 736," concluded Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

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