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.

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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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