State Politics

Thousands of teachers absent in protest

MIAMI — Thousands of Miami-Dade County Public School teachers were absent from classes Monday in protest of a proposed law that would establish a merit pay system and do away with tenure for new teachers.

Thirty percent of the district’s 22,500 teachers did not show up to school, district spokesman John Schuster said. In five elementary schools, the absentee rate for teachers was as high as 90 percent.

“We want that bill to be vetoed because it does nothing for the children. It does nothing for us,” said Irma Rodriguez, a music teacher at Coral Park Elementary.

District officials prepared themselves after rumors began circulating that teachers planned to call in sick or take a vacation day to protest a bill the Legislature passed last week.

Schuster said many teachers let the district know in advance they would not be attending. He said they were able to compensate between use of substitutes and district personnel with certified teaching credentials, though certain cases classes were combined. Some parents also chose to take their children home.

Rodriguez said her sister had to pick up three grandchildren from school, because they were being watched in a cafeteria until a substitute arrived.

Students at some schools staged peaceful protests in support of their teachers.

The bill is now before Gov. Charlie Crist, who has said he is unsure whether he will veto it.

The legislation would do away with tenure for newly hired teachers and require school districts to establish merit pay plans for teachers and administrators.

Poor evaluations, over time, could cost teachers their jobs through denial of recertification. Performance evaluations based on how much improvement their students have shown on standardized tests would be used to determine who would get merit raises.