State Teachers Union Fighting Merit Pay at Hearing

By: Troy Kinsey Email
By: Troy Kinsey Email

Tallahassee, FL -- May 30, 2012 --

The Florida Education Association took Florida's new merit pay law to the courts on Wednesday.

An administrative law judge started a two-day hearing on the statewide teachers union's objections to the controversial measure, which links paychecks to student performance.

The law was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist, who said, "The bill does encroach on local decision-making."

Then it was signed by Gov. Rick Scott, but only after undergoing major changes, including more buy-in from local school districts.

"We didn't go in and count chicken eggs and other kinds of things," Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, said. "What we did was, we put the framework, so the school districts would be involved in this. This is not coming top-down from the Department of Education."

But Florida's teacher union complains that top-down is exactly how merit pay is being run, and so the union is asking a judge to strike down a 13-page evaluation checklist.

Right now every Florida teacher's paycheck depends on that checklist, and local schools have no power to add or remove questions.

"They say it means, 'whatever we think needs to be put in that in our opinion would make teachers more effective,'" attorney Tony Demma said. "In our assessment, they've gone beyond what the statute authorized."

So even if a principal thinks a teacher may excel in an area not covered in the checklist, it wouldn't count.

Kathy Hebda with the Department of Education helped put the checklist together with one goal.

"By way of helping districts focus on things that, because of the purpose of the evaluation system, to improve student learning, to focus on those things that would promote that very thing," she said.

The number one factor in the teachers' evaluations continues to be student performance on the FCAT.

The union says at the very least, local districts ought to be able to come up with other individualized criteria, like how much enthusiasm a teacher might bring to their lessons.

The judge in the case is expected to rule within 30 days.

The state teachers union is filing another lawsuit aimed at striking down the entire merit pay law.

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