State Politics

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Local school leaders fear tenure bill

MANATEE — Manatee County School District leaders and teachers are fearful that if a controversial bill on teacher pay wins approval, elective classes like art, music and gym class could be eliminated.

The proposed bill would dramatically change the way teachers are evaluated and paid — placing new teachers on annual contracts, linking pay raises to student test scores and requiring school districts to divert 5 percent of their budget into a performance fund maintained by the Florida Department of Education.

School administrators would be required to set aside $14 million in the budget, a move that some fear would mean cuts in areas like elective classes. District officials already are expecting to slash the upcoming school year’s budget by $15 million.

“Over the last two years we have cut $44 million from our budget,” Superintendent Tim McGonegal wrote this week in a letter to legislators and the school board. “An additional cut of $14 million will force us to eliminate elective offerings and other essential services to students.”

The bill was approved by the Senate last month. The House is expected to vote on it this week.

The proposed legislation doesn’t sit well with some local teachers.

“Everyone agrees that reading, writing, math and science are critical skills needed for success,” said Dan Crumpler, a Braden River High School technology teacher. “What they don’t think about is what the other classes do to add extra meaning to the overall educational experience. If the educational goal is to make our students lifelong learners, then we have to do far more than teach the basics. Throwing away the elective classes would be like deciding which of my children I would sacrifice for the others.”

Stephen Terry, a Lakewood Ranch High School music instructor, said elective courses are critically important to overall student success.

“Some students have gone so far as to tell me that it was because of (in my case music, but you can insert almost any elective) that they stayed in school,” Terry, who’s been teaching for 40 years, wrote in an e-mail to the Bradenton Herald. “If there is no music, art, drama, sports, etc. in a particular school, is it worth it to increase the dropout rate by even one student?”

School board member Barbara Harvey is concerned that the district will lose good teachers if the bill is passed.

“We are not only going to push those great teachers out of the classrooms and into other professions, but we’re also going to encourage teachers to leave struggling students and move toward those students who are more proficient and have more home education affiliation,” she said.

Proponents, including Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, a co-sponsor of the bill, say it will rid schools of ineffective teachers and reward those who are effective.

Both Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, support the bill. Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, could not be reached for comment.

“We need to recognize great teachers and achievements by teachers,” said Galvano. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about this bill. It will not reduce teacher salaries, will not impact existing tenure,” Galvano said. “We’re talking about provisions that will go into effect in 2014. A teacher has the ability to impact many, many lives, and change the world by their actions. Every once in awhile, you encounter those (teachers) that go above and beyond and we should be rewarding those types.”

Galvano said some of the money needed to fund performance pay could come from the potential $435 million from gaming the state expects to receive.

“As we continue to make progress, the students in the state of Florida seem to be doing better and better,” Bennett said. “I don’t know of any other job in the world that, if I’m there for three years, I’m guaranteed a job for life.”

McGonegal also has voiced concern to lawmakers about another bill that would eliminate a health insurance subsidy that would cut retirees’ benefits by up to $150 each month.

“I understand that the average retiree receives approximately $12,000 per year. A cut of $150 per month to a retired teacher, bus driver, custodian, or food service worker will be a hardship,” McGonegal wrote. “Please consider exempting teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and food service workers from this reduction in retirement benefits.”

In addition, Manatee school leaders are pushing for lawmakers to develop an adequate statewide funding system for the district’s workforce programs, mainly at Manatee Technical Institute.

The state gives $380 million in funding to various technical institutes. But with the current allocation process, districts receive the same funding regardless of declines in enrollment.

“This fix won’t cost any more money, just re-allocate the existing state revenue to the technical centers,” McGonegal wrote to legislators.

Galvano said he expects the topic to be discussed during the next two weeks.

“We’ve been working very hard on the funding formula,” Galvano said Tuesday. “What I think we are going to do is we’re going to address the inequity in the funding, but will have to phase it in because when you correct, people in other districts will have to adjust, there will be jobs that will be lost.”

If approved, the process could take two years, Galvano said.

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