Teachers Sue to Stop Merit Pay

By: Mike Vasilinda; Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Mike Vasilinda; Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida Email

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, September 15, 2011

Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

A union opposed to the privatization of Florida prisons announced Wednesday it has fiiled an ethics complaint aimed at derailing the move, arguing that Gov. Rick Scott faced a series of conflicts of interest in relation to the initiative.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is engaged in a showdown over the right to represent correctional officers in Florida, says Scott faces dueling priorities because he oversees both the Department of Corrections and a state investment fund that has invested in private prison companies.

The organization also highlights a total of $30,000 in contributions to Scotts inaugural committee from two of the companies most likely to win bidding on a new contract that would hand over facilities across the southern third of the state.

"It just raises too many questions, and it creates this impression where we have the fox guarding the henhouse," said Michael Filler, director of the Teamsters' public service division.

Separately, another union, the Police Benevolent Association, has sued to try to block the privatization. The PBA represents most corrections officers in the state. The Teamsters are trying to force an election over whether the PBA will continue to be the main union for the guards.

The Teamsters said the state owns millions of dollars in stock in the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America through its pension fund. That presents a conflict for Scott, who is on the State Board of Administration, which oversees the pension, the union argues in its complaint.

"The governor, as the Chair of the SBA, has an obligation to act in the best interest of the Florida Retirement System Trust Fund doing so would call for the maximization of profit to the GEO group or the Corrections Corporation of America. ... However, State/DOC as the negotiator of the contracts with the companies, is obligated to minimize the payout to the private firms," the complaint says.

The group argues that the state should bar GEO and CCA from participating in the bidding process, and that the state should investigate the potential conflict before going ahead with the privatization project.

The state owned about $10 million in stock in the two companies as of the close of business Tuesday, said Dennis MacKee, a spokesman for the SBA -- $8.8 million in CCA stock and $1.4 million in GEO.

But MacKee said most of the stock was held either in three passive accounts that follow certain indices or in a more active account that is managed externally. Only about $460,000 of the stock is held in an active account run internally.

The total value of the states pension fund was $117.7 billion as of Tuesdays close.

Lane Wright, Scotts press secretary, also brushed off the contention that the contributions to Scotts inauguration would influence the bidding.

"Between two and three hundred companies or individuals donated to the inauguration fund," Wright said. "And that money went to the Republican Party of Florida, in total compliance with the law, not to Governor Scott directly."

Wright also said Scott would not try to influence the selection process and wants to see the contract awarded to the lowest bidder.


Tallahassee, FL -- September 14, 2011 --

Beth Weatherstone and Carolyn Loftin had never met before Wednesday, but they came to the Capitol from opposite sides of the state to file a lawsuit against a new merit pay law that they say infringes on their right to bargain.

Their attorney, Ron Meyer, filed the suit in Circuit court.

“I’m reminded of what is attribute to Henry Ford when he rolled out the Model T, ‘you can have any color as long as it’s black.’ Thats what we’re telling public employees in this state is you can bargain anything you want as long as it looks like this,” Meyer said. “That’s not effective collective bargaining.”

Six teachers are plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

Beth joined in because she believes the law forces her to choose between really teaching her Vero Beach students to understand algebra or teaching them to perform on a test so she can keep her job.

“I know I will teach them the Algebra I, but I could be let go within a two to three year period and lose my certification to teach because of that FCAT test,” she said.

Carolyn is a 35-year classroom veteran who feels like policy makers minimize what it takes to perform in a room full of kindergartners.

“Kindergarten students are very smart,” she said. “They’re eager to learn and I do believe that I make a difference in their lives, they want to be in school and they enjoy being there.”

Most school districts in the state are fighting the clock. They face a September 30th deadline to come up with a plan to reward merit pay, even though lawmakers put no money into the plan and most school budgets are being cut.

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  • by CJ Location: Tallahassee on Sep 15, 2011 at 04:41 PM
    In this day & age there are a few things I don't understand. Why go into teaching now when students, parents, gov't, & the public don't respect teachers, pay stinks, they're trashed publicly, & questioned by parents? Why do so many of you that have commented seem to hate teachers? Do you realize that you are demoralizing the people that are teaching & raising (yes, b/c parents don't do that job anymore) the next generation when their hands are tied by gov't officials that aren't trained educators?
  • by Professional on Sep 15, 2011 at 08:07 AM
    The lack of education is apparent in the comments of many of you whiners who think unions are un-American and socialist. Do you have vacation time, sick leave or paid holidays? health insurance? It is unions that made this possible but you sheep want to go back to the 19th century when children could be forced to work 12-hour days in factories, and you would literally work until you die, owing the company store more than you were paid in a lifetime. Just because you Teahadists want to live like slaves doesn't mean that we patriotic Americans will follow you to your fascistic Valhalla. You choose to be ignorant and you need to stop telling the world about it. You are like unruly students who don't want to learn but will disrupt the class for those who do. Sit down and shut up!
    • reply
      by Think for a Moment on Sep 15, 2011 at 09:05 AM in reply to Professional
      Your point is well taken, but Unions do none of the things you speak of today. In the last 40 years they are directly responsible for driving businesses overseas. There is a big difference in good faith negotiations and Striking Workers that are maliciously hurting people and damaging property. The Unions operate exactly like Organized Crime and nobody can deny the evidence to support that observation. Your word attempt to hide your entitlement mentality, but I for one can see through it. Your idea of patiotism is grossly distorted.
    • reply
      by LOL on Sep 15, 2011 at 09:42 AM in reply to Professional
      wooooooooo...you sound real scary on a blog....professional "what" by the way?
    • reply
      by Franklin on Sep 15, 2011 at 09:52 AM in reply to Professional
      State of Florida had the benefits you describe in your second sentence before AFSCME was even barfed into being.
    • reply
      by rob on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:51 AM in reply to Professional
      When was the last time the union fought for a workers rights? About 50 years is the answer. The unions are more concerned with getting people elected and the payback they get...see Obama's payback to the unions. Unions are a joke as they no longer serve the people but expect the people to serve under them! Another thing....learn your myths...Valhalla is Nordic...and teahadist (as sad as that is) is not!
  • by Franklin on Sep 15, 2011 at 07:18 AM
    What was left out of this comment is that Article I, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution, also does not require that any employee belong to a union. The merit pay issue will require that non union employees be treated fairly with regards to union employees and any merit increases. This is what the union for Florida teachers does not like.
  • by Show me the money Location: Tallahassee on Sep 15, 2011 at 07:10 AM
    Merit pay can be a great idea for some teachers. How do you rate an Art teacher, PE Coach, an ESE teacher? We have classes where kids with IQs are under 70 and still take the FCAT test for their grade level. Not quite fair for that teacher... Oh, and where is the funding for the merit pay? The legislature is cutting funding, effectively cutting the number of teachers, and there is no money allotted for merit pay. I think some of the people that complain the most about teachers are the parents that have no kids or aren't happy with teachers because their kids aren't doing well. Many times the problem is with the parents not helping or caring about their own kids education. Sending them to a private school or charter isn't the answer. If they do there perhaps that is because teachers can teach the whole subject instead of just teacher the FCAT. Not sure why public schools are required and private and charter schools do not. I guess private schools do look better if they don't have any testing requirements to compare.
  • by Franklin on Sep 15, 2011 at 07:01 AM
    Merit pay unconstitutional??? I don't see where collective bargaining rights have been stripped. Explain yourselves union people.
  • by Rick Location: Tallahassee on Sep 15, 2011 at 06:47 AM
    Negotiating wages and benefits is okay, but tenure doesn't belong in any contract. Having tenure takes away the incentive to excel in your work and there is a percentage of the teachers who abuse their tenure that way. And, when there are layoffs the new energetic teachers who are working hard trying to keep a job are laid off while the tenured teachers, many of whom are lazy because they have tenure, get to keep a job. The real losers are the kids who loose the chance to get alot of education due to some lazy tenured teacher keeping their job because of a union contract.
  • by Grace Location: TAllahassee on Sep 15, 2011 at 04:55 AM
    Most people work for merit increases, why on earth should any competent employee be against that? The only thing wrong in this whole situation is having a teacher's union. Get rid of them!
    • reply
      by conservative democrat on Sep 15, 2011 at 08:53 AM in reply to Grace
      if you have ever worked in a job with merit pay you would understand. It is not the ones who come to work and work hard who get the merit raise, but those who are kin or friends with their supervisor, and hang out drinking and partying with them then if they come to work, they come with a hang over and the supervisor covers for them then gives them the undeserved merit raise!
  • by Anonymous on Sep 15, 2011 at 04:09 AM
    Sueing to keep that golden spoon...nice
  • by a.p. Location: Avon Park on Sep 15, 2011 at 03:54 AM
    Unions will eventually destroy education as we know it. Affirmative action and tenure which the unions support have already reduced public education to a laughing stock. If parents had viable alternatives, public education would not exist.
    • reply
      by conservative democrat on Sep 15, 2011 at 08:55 AM in reply to a.p.
      its the tea party republicans cutting back on funds to education, while they vote themselves a hefty pay raise every year that has destroyed our education system!!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:47 AM in reply to conservative democrat
        After years of the democrat way of just throwing money at education, doesnt work...the democrats have destroyed our education system by removing rights of the teachers to discipline while allowing parents to get away without having to be parents, because schools are now nothing but babysitters...all due to the democrats!
      • reply
        by Reagan Republican on Sep 15, 2011 at 08:37 PM in reply to conservative democrat
        Once again "liberal democrat" is posting lies, and more lies. What is with you? You never say anything constructive towards helping others!
  • by Anonymous on Sep 15, 2011 at 03:32 AM
    "The right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively shall not be denied or abridged", Art.I Sec.6 ,,,,sure sounds like the merit pay law is unconstitutional.
    • reply
      by Franklin on Sep 15, 2011 at 07:07 AM in reply to
      No one's rights to collectively bargain have been taken away. The teacher's union can still collectively bargain until they drop. Merit pay is about paying good teachers more than not so good teachers. The only bad thing about merit pay is that the coward laden school districts under the guise of not ruffling any politically correct feathers, will spread the money so thin that any pay increases will be unrecognizable.
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