A rocky legislative journey for teacher pay raises

May 4, 2013 

This has been a roller coaster legislative session for teachers -- a stomach-churning one.

Manatee County's classroom instructors must have cheered when Gov. Rick Scott placed an across-the-board $2,500 raise as one of his top two priorities. But then the House and Senate rebuffed the governor and agreed to performance-based raises -- under the merit-pay law being challenged in court as unfair.

In the chaotic final week of the Legislature's 2013 regular session, lawmakers then botched the teacher pay raise measure. Tossing together language on the bill late last Sunday night, the two chambers linked raises to 2013-2014 teacher evaluations.

That meant no money until June 2014 at the earliest. That's not a raise, that's a promise -- easily broken in the next legislative session.

The backlash came quickly from the governor, school superintendents and teachers unions.

The upshot is new language lets school districts devise their own merit-pay plans based on student achievement data. And then engage teacher unions in collective bargaining talks, come to an agreement, and send that to the state for approval. That will take time, just what the Manatee County school district is running short of with so many other pressing issues at hand.

District leaders and the school board must address a financial disaster that is expected to worsen (see Quote of the Week), work on a new budget for the coming school year, and negotiate a regular contract with a teachers union that hasn't had one for several years.

Oh, and also discuss potential school closures and consolidations, always a tough task when neighborhoods face a loss. There's more, but good grief that's a boatload of challenges.

While Manatee teachers can only watch and wait, at least they know raises are coming sooner than a year from now.

Quote of the week

"Great organizations get down to the brutal facts."

-- Manatee County schools Superintendent Rick Mills, talking at a public luncheon Wednesday about the district's budget disaster while earlier saying the dilemma is darker than he thought and will get worse before improving.

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