FEA Frontline Report: Week of March 22

March 27, 2010. SB 6 passes Senate while House counterpart HB 7189 begins ascent, Assault on Florida Retirement System stems from legislators’ burning desire to balance budget without raising taxes.

(Received March 26, 2010).

Quote of the week:

“Every success in our public schools is credited to some program with a tortured acronym crafted in the halls of Tallahassee…while every failure is laid at the feet of our hard working teachers,” Senator Charlie Justice (D-St. Petersburg) in Floor debate before casting his vote against SB 6.

Week four of the 2010 legislative session

This is how Week Four started out:  “In a galaxy far, far away, a psychopathic emperor and his most trusted servant – a former Jedi Knight known as Darth Vader – are ruling a universe with fear. They have built a horrifying weapon known as the Death Star, a giant battle station capable of annihilating a world in less than a second. When the Death Star’s master plans are captured by the fledgling Rebel Alliance, Vader starts a pursuit of the ship carrying them… the Rebels must quickly find a way to eliminate the Death Star before it is too late!”

Ok, the Star Wars comparison might be a bit over the top… Jeb Bush (the brains behind SB 6) is not a psychopathic emperor and Sen. John Thrasher (RPOF Chair and sponsor of SB 6) is not Darth Vader— and SB 6 and HB 7189 are not the plans for a Death Star.  But we could have sworn FEA President Andy Ford and attorney Ron Meyer were a little like Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi wielding light sabers against a never-ending battalion of Storm Troopers… and FEA and the locals are looking a lot like the Rebel Alliance these days!

Next week will be a short week for the Legislature due to observance of religious holidays.  The Senate and the House will be in session on Wednesday and Thursday to pass the budget bills.  We’ll let you know how that goes in next week’s Frontline.

In this issue:

SB 6 passes Senate – starts House journey as HB 7189

SJR 2 Class Size passes Senate

Retirement bills starting to move

Member lobbyists visiting Tallahassee

SB 6 passes Senate – starts House journey as HB 7189

The venomous SB 6 sponsored by the chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville) went to the floor of the Senate this week for a full Senate vote.  The bill passed by a vote of 21 to 17.

Voting against the bill were Senators:

Aronberg (D-Greenacres), Bullard (D-Miami), Dean (R-Inverness), Dockery (R-Lakeland), Deutch (D-Delray Beach), Gelber (D-Miami Beach), Hill (D-Jacksonville), Jones (R-Seminole), Joyner (D-Tampa), Justice (D-St. Petersburg), Lawson (D-Tallahassee), Ring (D-Margate), Smith (D-Oakland Park), Siplin (D-Orlando), Sobel (D-Hollywood), Villalobos (R-Miami), Wilson (D-Miami) (Sen. Nan Rich was absent this week).

The House version – now filed as HB 7189 — was heard in the House Education PreK-12 committee on Thursday – passing by a vote of 9 to 6.  Republican Rep. Mike Weinstein (Jacksonville) was the lone Republican casting his vote against the bill with the Democrats.   The next stop for this bill has yet to be determined – it could go straight to a full vote of the House or it could be referred to a committee or two, or it could sit in limbo as a negotiating tool for the House to get something in return from the Senate.

SB 6 and HB 7189:

·       Eliminates due process and places all new teachers on annual contracts – these contracts may be non-renewed for any reason or no reason without recourse.

·       Permits non-renewal of a teaching certificate if a teacher cannot demonstrate student learning gains in 4 of the preceding 5 years.

·       Links learning gains —measured by a means yet to be determined and end of course exams that don’t yet exist— to teacher pay and recertification. Performance appraisals will be required to be based upon 50% student learning gains.

·       Prohibits recognition of years of service or advanced degrees in determining teacher salaries.

·       Ensures that the National Board Certified Teacher program will end in Florida by requiring individuals to be NBCT certified by July 1, 2010 and stipulates that bonuses will be paid if funding is available and if they are continuously employed in a public school.

·       Ends college grant and loan forgiveness programs for critical need areas.

·       Will lop off 5% of districts’ state funding to be held for performance pay, but first the funds will be used to develop the tests and processes to determine learning gains.  It amounts to about $900 – 950 million.  In essence, all teachers are paying for the cost of test development and performance awards which may become due under SB 6.

·       Shifts more and more control away from local school districts to the state, removes local decision-making by elected school boards or through collective bargaining on matters which relate to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment.

·       Carves out any school district receiving $75 million or more in private grants so they are exempt from complying with the provisions of the bill until July 1, 201.6

In previous alerts and Frontlines, we did not adequately thank those who testified against SB 6/HB7189 – they all did a fantastic job! Our thanks to:

·       Ron Meyer for his impassioned testimony against the many ill-conceived premises of SB 6

·       Rich Templin from the Florida AFL-CIO speaking as a parent against the bill

·       Candace Gautney –  a 5th grade Science teacher from Ruediger Elementary School in Tallahassee

·       Melissa Olson – a 5th grade Writing teacher from Ruediger Elementary School

·       Jennifer Barnhill who teachers in Tallahassee at the PACE Alternative Center, Special Education/Emotionally Handicapped

·       Jason Flom from Cornerstone Learning Community

·       UTD President Karen Aronowitz and her many members who were part of UTD’s Target Tallahassee group

·       The many teachers and parents who turned in speaker cards to the committee from all around the state, but we were not able to get all their names

There is no way to adequately describe what they said and the intellectual and emotional impact their words had on that committee and those who sat in the audience!

SJR 2 Class Size passes Senate

The Senate passed SJR 2 – the 2010 legislative scheme to renege on class size reduction.  The House version HJR 7039 could be placed on the House session calendar at any time.   A 3/5 vote of the full body (all 40 members), or 24 votes was required for passage of SJR 2 to place the proposal on the November 2010 ballot. The final vote was 26 to 12; one Democrat voted for the Amendment – Senator Ring (D-Margate) with the Republicans… and one Republican – Sen. Alex Villalobos (R-Miami) voted against the bill with the Democrats.  Note: two Democrats were absent – Rich and Bullard.

Voting against SJR 2 were Senators:

Aronberg (D-Greenacres), Deutch (D-Delray Beach), Gelber (D-Miami Beach), Hill (D-Jacksonville), Joyner (D-Tampa), Justice (D-St. Petersburg), Lawson (D-Tallahassee), Smith (D-Oakland Park), Siplin (D-Orlando), Sobel (D-Hollywood), Villalobos (R-Miami), Wilson (D-Miami) (Sen. Nan Rich was absent this week).

The proposed amendment would keep class-size caps at the school average and then allow schools to add three extra students in the kindergarten to 3rd grade level and five extra students at grades four through 12.

Here’s what the bill could do to our classrooms:

·       In 2002-03 Pre-K-3 averaged 23 students. Now 16 students.  If the amendment passes classes may have 21 students.

·       In 2002-03 Grades 4–8 averaged 24 students. Now 19 students. If the amendment passes classes may have 27 students.

·       In 2002-03 Grades 8-12 averaged 24 students. Now 22 students. If the amendment passes classes may have 30 students.

That moves past the sought-after “flexibility” right on over to “gutting” the class-size provisions voters approved eight years ago.

Retirement bills starting to move

As the 2010 Legislative Session begins to hit its full pace, we’re starting to see only a few of the 29 filed retirement related bills – plus a few more committee bills – pick up traction.  The really bad bill HB 1319 has fallen by the wayside – although we have to be on the lookout for any of its provisions popping up in other bills through the amendment process.

These changes to FRS are prompted by the legislature’s burning desire to find more ways to balance the state budget without raising taxes.  As you well know, to balance the budget over the past 3 years they have been making huge cuts to state funding for education, public safety and human services … the one thing they haven’t touched is – you guessed it – the Florida Retirement System (FRS).  So get ready for another promise to be broken by our elected leaders.  Here’s a quick rundown on one moving through the process:

SB 2022 by Sen. J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales) was voted out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee Thursday.  FEA opposes this bill.  The bill changes the FRS from a non-contributory system to a contributory system by requiring each active member of the FRS to contribute 0.25% of gross salary to fund retirement benefits, effective January 1, 2011.

This bill impacts every active member of the FRS, the Senior Management Service Optional Annuity Program, the State University Optional Retirement Program and the Community College Optional Retirement Program.

Senators voting in opposition to the bill were: Gelber, Hill, Justice, Lawson, Lynn, Sobel, Wilson, and Deutch.

This contribution rate applies to both FRS defined benefit plan participants and investment plan participants.  Public testimony in opposition to the bill emphasized the points that the 0.25% contribution rate is merely the camel’s nose under the tent, and the employee contribution will, in effect, be a tax free loan to the state.

After Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R-Daytona Beach) asked the bill sponsor “what does this bill do for teachers?”  Alexander responded: “It requires them to make a 0.25% of gross pay towards their FRS retirement plan which means that if they make $45,000 per year, their annual contribution would total $112; and if they make $75,000 per year, their annual contribution would total $187.50.”

Senator Gaetz (R-Niceville) insisted that this was the only way to raise funds to make FRS actuarially sound.  Senator Alexander replied that he wished they didn’t have to make these tough decisions — but the Legislature has to balance the budget.

Member lobbyists visiting Tallahassee

Big thank you to all our visiting member lobbyists!  It was quite a week! If this was their first time in Tallahassee they certainly got a view of the legislative process they won’t soon forget!  Thanks to: Alachua, Brevard, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lake, Leon, Martin, Orange, Pasco and Pinellas!

Questions? Call FEA Public Policy Advocacy at 850.224.2078

Thanks to all those who contributed to this report: Debi McDaniel, Pat Dix, Kevin Watson, and Ron Meyer.