State Politics

Calling it flawed, Crist vetoes SB 6

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday killed the bill that prompted sick-outs, sit-ins, street protests and a flood of opposition throughout the state as Republican lawmakers vowed to try again next year — if not sooner.

Calling it “significantly flawed,” Crist decried the bill — which would link teacher pay to student test scores and eliminate tenure for all new hires — as both overreaching and too vague.

“We must start over,” he said.

The measure’s main sponsor, Republican Sen. John Thrasher, said he did not think the bill would see a resurrection this spring.

“That would be hard to do,” said Thrasher, of St. Augustine. “Major legislation like this sometimes takes years to pass. This is not done overnight.”

But for Rep. John Legg, the Port Richey Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, education reform efforts are not over. He said he intends to find ways to toughen existing laws that require using student performance to evaluate teachers and that require schools to have an “evaluation mechanism’’ for every course.

In Manatee and across the state, the veto drew both praise and criticism from lawmakers, teachers and union representatives.

“I think he’s listened to his people, to retired teachers, parent and school board members,” said Manatee County schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal. “He said he’s ready to get back to work, and I think the Legislature should take a look at involving superintendents, teacher and parents in this work on education reform.”

Pat Barber, president of the Manatee County Education Association, the local teacher’s union, said she couldn’t agree more.

“We appreciate the governor stepping up,” she said. “I definitely hope in the future people who are trained to educate students will be involved in any kind of reform that the Legislature is interested in making.”

Crist got 120,000 messages

Crist’s noontime announcement came as little surprise. Although he initially voiced support for the bill, he had distanced himself as protests mounted. He insisted his decision was not influenced by his faltering primary race for the U.S. Senate.

The governor’s office has received nearly 120,000 messages about the bill. Though about 51,000 were still unread, almost 65,000 of the logged messages opposed the bill. Just 3,000 supported the bill.

“This bill has deeply and negatively affected the morale of our teachers, our parents and our students,” Crist said. “They are not confident in our system because they do not believe their voices were heard.”

Under the bill, half of a teacher’s evaluation would depend on their students’ learning gains. Good gains would equal positive evaluations and pay raises, which teachers said failed to factor the work that doesn’t show up on tests — and ignores other forces that affect kids.

Tenure would have been out of the question for new teachers, which Crist highlighted in his problems with the bill.

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the Senate majority whip and chair of its Committee on Education Pre-K-12, was a supporter of the bill and was disappointed with the veto.

“I think it’s too bad we got this far, only to have a veto,” she said. “We should have worked together a little sooner. There were a couple of major flaws in the bill that should have been fixed.”

Crist’s political mentor, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, was so dismayed by the veto that he resigned Thursday as Crist’s campaign chairman in his race for the U.S. Senate.

Mack wrote a terse, two-paragraph letter to his one-time protege that said Crist was wrong to veto the bill.

“As you know, I strongly disagree with your veto,” Mack wrote his fellow Republican. “Your veto I believe undermines our education system in Florida and the principles for which I have always stood.”

Mack went on to say that Crist’s decision to veto the bill was “unsupportable and wrong.”

Schools in Manatee rejoice

The mood at Braden River High School after the veto was one of excitement, said Principal Jim Pauley.

“I think is fantastic that Governor Crist stepped to the plate,” he said. “It was a very poorly crafted deal in terms of the details. There were so many areas in that bill that people didn’t take the time to look through.”

Nolan Middle School English teacher and local mom Jennifer Stickler agreed.

“As a parent of three children in the public school system, and as an educator, I firmly believe that something needs to be done to increase accountability in education, but this was not the way,” she said. “I want my children to have teachers who are excited and passionate about teaching, and I try to exemplify those qualities in my classroom, as well. This bill placed all of the blame, and all of the responsibility for reform on the people who are already doing the best they can with the minimal resources they are given. If the legislators want reform, they should better fund education to begin with.”

One of those legislators was state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who applauded the veto.

“I think it’s a good day for teachers and students,” said Rouson, whose district dips into Manatee County. “I also believe some things the governor said were correct — the goals of SB 6 are laudable.”

“Now we get a chance to take our time, and make lasting changes that help us get to the goals; we should resurrect it next year,” he said.

Local school board members, including Barbara Harvey and Harry Kinnan, also expressed relief at the veto.

“I know this was the right thing to do,” Harvey said. “And now we can all be involved in tailoring a bill that will address the needs of all of our children.”

Kinnan called it a flawed bill.

“Having the legislature back off and readdress it by working with school boards and teachers is the best idea,” Kinnan said.

Bayshore High School teacher Bonnie Condore said she was a little nervous Crist would sign the bill.

“But I think he saw the outrage and knew it was not going to go away,” Condore said. “I also think politically it wasn’t gonna help him if he passed it.”

‘Disappointed’ vs. ‘Gloating’

Response from lawmakers was swift and mostly split along party lines.

“Disappointed” was the word of the day for many Republican supporters. “Gloating” was the choice for many of the bill’s opponents — from both parties.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who lobbied hard for the bill, was one of the many disheartened Republicans.

“By taking this action, Governor Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade,” said Bush, chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, in a statement.

“Obviously, it’s a victory,” said Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. “But I’m not uncorking champagne because, frankly, it’s really a sad statement that we had to fight this hard to stop something so wrong-headed.”