Changes modestly improve Senate Pension bill

February 24, 2011. Legislation remains a tax on teachers, public employees, Forces new hires into 401(K) style plan

(February 23, 2011)                                 Contact: Mark Pudlow, 850.201.3223 or 850.508.9756

TALLAHASSEE – Changes made in a Senate committee Tuesday to a proposal that would introduce sweeping changes into pension plans for public employees throughout Florida represent a slightly positive change, the Florida Education Association said today. But teachers, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, other school employees, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other state workers still face a tax on their earnings under the proposal.

Further, the proposed legislation still forces all new employees into the defined contribution plan – a 401(k)-style plan. Closing the current defined benefit pan and forcing employees toward the investment plan will cost the system significant sums of money. This is an additional hidden cost of these proposals.

Florida is already contemplating slashing the education budget, which will lead to decreased salaries and benefits. Piling on this pension reduction hits school employees yet again.

None of these proposed changes have been voted on by the committee and are scheduled to be discussed Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

“These so-called pension reforms, even with the proposed improvement, remains a tax on every teacher in Florida as well as thousands of other public employees around the state,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “While these hardworking Floridians are struggling to educate our children and protect our communities, the absolute last thing Tallahassee politicians need to be doing is balancing the budget by imposing a new tax on educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters and nurses.”

Ford also noted that requiring public employees to contribute any of their pay to their retirement fund while Florida cuts education budgets and salaries would mean that money would come right out of local communities throughout Florida at a time when the economy is still struggling to recover from a long downturn.

The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational support professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.

FEA Frontline Report

February 16, 2011.  “Teacher Quality” bill passes Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, “Pension Reform” bill set for public hearing February 18

We urge you to continue to do as you have done so well this year by listening just a little more and a little longer to the voices of those who will do this work.  Given the timeframes in the bill, there is time… then pass a bill that provides our students and our educators the best chance at reaching the goals of this legislation: student success. We need to get this right.” FEA testimony in Senate meeting

“Teacher Quality” bill passes second committee

Today (Tuesday) the “teacher quality” bill—CS 736 sponsored by Sen. Stephen Wise (R-Jacksonville) moved one step closer to the Senate floor when it passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with a single no vote cast by Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Polk).  At first, the bill seemed to be cruising towards easy passage, but as questions were posed to the sponsor there was an unease rippling through the committee members.

Sen. Dockery told the panel she had so many unanswered concerns about the bill that she felt uncomfortable allowing the bill to leave the committee in its current form.

FEA pointed out to the committee that, as their own bill analysis states, the total impact now and in the out years, may be hard to gauge, and are indeterminate — but everyone understands that the cost to implement the bill will be large.

Sen. Montford (D-Tallahassee and former Leon County superintendent) called the bill in its present form “unacceptable.”   Montford said “we’re putting all our eggs into one basket, and the basket hasn’t even been developed.”

The legislature has been willing to give time to districts in SB 736 – but there is no money attached to this bill. There is no money for developing evaluations systems, creating new tests and not even a nod to helping teachers “needing improvement” to improve. The bill will not add funding for the new performance compensation plan—except to cut or freeze existing salaries.  Sarasota School Board member Shirley Brown asked the committee how districts would be able to plan their budgets or staffing when the data and funding they will need to make these decisions will not be available when needed.

The bill now moves to Senate Budget Committee to be heard Wednesday, February 23 at 9:00 am. The House version has not been released but we have been told to expect a  committee bill before the first day of session.

You can read the Senate committee substitute bill at:

Reminder: “Pension Reform” hearing this Friday

The retirement (FRS) or so called “pension reform” bill. Senator Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) has scheduled a four-hour hearing for this Friday, February 18 beginning at 8 am to receive public testimony. For more details email Pat.Dix(at)

Questions?  Call FEA Public Policy Advocacy at 850.224.2078

Facts Could Mess Up the FRS Debate

January 25, 2011. “When you get past the anecdotal eye-openers, the numbers don’t show a big, rich public trough for public retirees.”

Tallahassee Democrat
(Jan 24, 2011)
Bill Cotterell

Link to original article.

There’s an old joke in newsrooms — at least, I hope it’s said jokingly — about not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Elected leaders do that, too, but they’re not joking. Ronald Reagan once said “facts are stupid things.” Maybe he meant “stubborn things,” but he was right either way — truth just is what it is, unyielding and unresponsive to what we’d like.

The 2011 legislative session is going to make major changes in the Florida Retirement System. A lot of the new rules will be based on cold, hard fact — namely, money — but much impetus for these changes will come from feel-good political motives.

There’s a perception that public pensions are far too generous and that the FRS is in great financial peril. But the fund is sound, despite some investment losses in the great market collapse of 2008-09. And if you look closely at the greed stories about some 48-year-old cop retiring with a six-figure pension, or retiree health-care costs gobbling up city and county tax revenues, you’ll notice that they occur in other states.

Most frequent examples come from California, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. And in Florida, when you hear about cities staggering under the weight of massive pension burdens, those cities are not members of the FRS.

When you get past the anecdotal eye-openers, the numbers don’t show a big, rich public trough for public retirees. While it’s true that some retire with generous benefits — especially in the “special risk” class of firefighters, police and prison officers — they earn it.

It’s also true that a lot of the local governments now unable to afford their obligations got in trouble by bargaining away future health and pension benefits. It may have been done by previous administrations but, many times, the cities avoided giving big pay raises today by promising big benefits in retirement — and their successors now see the bill coming due.

The Florida Education Association rebutted some popular pension myths at a meeting of the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee on Jan. 12. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is scheduled to do it again this week.

The average state-employee salary in the FRS regular class is $36,423, according to the FEA figures. That’s the lowest of the six groups in the FRS, which includes school boards, universities, counties, cities and community colleges.

For the school boards, the average teacher’s retirement check is $1,868 a month. For secretaries, it’s $1,271 — and that’s based on 30 years of service.

Drawing figures from the state’s Annual Workforce Report, AFSCME calculated that the typical Career Service employee in the regular class has an average FRS benefit of $970 a month. That’s based on 21 years of service, the average, since not many state workers go the full 30.

State retirees also get a health-insurance subsidy of $5 a month for each year of service, capped at $150. But since the average career is 21 years, it works out to $105 a month. AFSCME calculates that monthly health premiums are $549 for single retirees and $1,243 for family coverage — so, on average, a $970 pension and $105 health subsidy leaves $526 a month for single people and $168 for a couple.

AFSCME also notes that, under new federal rules, the average FRS retiree in the regular class is eligible for Medicaid, because the average pension of $11,642 is well below the $14,404 income threshold for the federal program.

All of which is to say, the FRS is not just bursting with lifetime free rides. Legislators will change things, because money is tight and about 12 percent of their constituents seeking jobs can’t find any at all.

First, the FRS is entirely employer-paid. Forget that one. Gov. Rick Scott said during his campaign that Florida is the only state in which employees don’t chip in to their pension pot, and the Senate last year tried to require a quarter-percent contribution. It looks like a sure thing this year — at a lot more than a quarter-percent.

Sooner or later — probably sooner — all new employees will be offered 401(k)-style “defined contribution” pension plans, rather than the traditional defined benefit system. Why? Because the DC plan is more like private-sector pensions, employees manage their own investments, and it’s portable so workers can take their holdings with them when they go to another job.

Ex-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a reduction in the 6-percent interest rate paid on pent-up pensions in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Scott won’t veto such a cut, which is probably the second most-likely change to pass the Legislature.

Another idea is to lower the special risk retirement credit, now 3 percent a year, or to restrict it to officers who face dangers on the job every day — like police, firefighters and prison officers. There’s a wide range of others in the criminal justice system with special-risk status now.

Instead of calculating pensions on an employee’s “high five” earning years, they could start averaging the best 10 years — or even the employee’s salary over a whole career. The practice of “spiking” pensions by counting overtime will probably come to an end, too.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, chairman of the Senate committee, says “everything is on the table.” But he’s taking a cautious approach, waiting for thorough actuarial studies of every idea.

That’s harder than just buying into the popular presumption of greedy employees gorging on lavish pension plans — which makes a good story, until the facts get in the way.

Some Simple Truths About the Florida Retirement System

January 14, 2011. Florida legislators are attacking “among the five most financially sound state pensions in the nation.”

A Message from Florida Education Association

Teachers and education employees earn their modest pensions through years of public service.

* Regardless of what you might hear from politicians in Tallahassee, pensions for teachers and education staff are modest.

* In general, public pensioners receive benefits either on par or below those in the private sector.

* Teacher pensions average about $325 per week. This has to cover rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation expenses, groceries, medicine, healthcare costs and other day-to-day expenses.

* Pensions for other school employees are much lower – about $195 per week on average.

Florida’s pension plan is in sound financial condition.

* The Florida Retirement System (FRS) is fully funded and able to meet its obligations.

* FRS is NOT one of these struggling pension systems you hear about. There are some pensions out there, private and public, that are struggling in the current economic downturn. In some cases these pensions don’t have the funds to pay their retirees the pensions that were promised.

* FRS is among the five most financially sound state pensions in the nation, according to the Pew Center on the States.

Some politicians in Tallahassee want to make radical, risky changes to FRS.

* If experience in other states is a guide, the changes being considered (like individual 401(k) accounts) may cost taxpayers more than the current system.

* These accounts funnel public dollars through the accounts of retirees and directly in to the coffers of Wall Street firms (in the form of fees and other charges).

* FRS is working. This is no time for risky experiments with our retirement security.

Small tax dollar contributions in public pensions bring big benefits to the local community.

* In Florida, tax dollar contributions for local and state public pensions are very low and in general represent a small fraction of operating budgets.

* Pensions dollars are investments in communities and actually strengthen local economies by providing retirees with stable income and increased purchasing power.

Attacks on pensions hurt our schools.

* Mandating employee contributions to FRS from teachers and education staff amounts to a pay-cut for these employees.

* Attacking their pensions hurts our schools – being able to offer a decent pension to employees (who otherwise receive below average compensation) helps our schools retain experienced and talented teachers and staff.

Florida Senate Ready to End Free Retirement for Teachers and State Workers

January 13, 2011. “Core part” of changes to involve employee contributions

From St. Pete Times  blog “The Buzz”

(JANUARY 12, 2011)

Sen. Jeremy Ring, the Margate Democrat who heads the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, said Senate leadership is ready to end the free retirement now enjoyed by teachers, firefighters, legislators and all other state and local employees in the  Florida Retirement System.

“We’re one of the last states in the country that doesn’t have a contribution and while I think everything’s on the table and I don’t have a number I feel pretty certain that a core part of this discussion is employee contributions,” Ring said after a hearing on pension reform.

Ring said it will be another three weeks before he releases a proposed committee bill as he waits for the actuarial report he has ordered his committee staff to compile. Based on those numbers, Ring said he will decide how much to set the contribution rate for employees.

“I want to be sensitive to a lot of things,” he said.  “If you have a number of 6 percent, which I’m not saying is the number, it’s very different from the $100,000 DMS worker than it is for the $20,000 school bus driver.”

Florida Retail Federation: “Yes, Unions, Pension Reform is Coming”

Published at

Private-sector awakens to a growing disconnect over public perks

Kenric Ward

January 12, 2011

The Florida AFL-CIO calls contemplated changes to the state’s pension system “radical.” It’s long past time the union started being honest with its members.

Pension reform is coming to the public sector, just as it has to the private sector. As former New York City school chancellor Joel Klein wrote the other day:

“Defined-benefit pensions helped bring the once-vibrant U.S. auto industry to its knees. The promised benefits just proved too costly. In that industry such pensions are mostly a thing of the past. Global competition eventually demanded as much.”

In Florida, most local and state politicians have arrived at the same conclusion. Government workers may not feel “global competition” the way auto workers do, but they are part of the labor market. And that market is changing, rapidly.

As the pension debate heats up, wages in the real world (outside government) are being driven down. The U.S. Department of Labor found that between 2007 and 2009, more than half of the full-time private-sector workers who lost jobs that they had held for at least three years and then found new full-time work reported wage declines. Thirty-six percent of those reported earning more than 20 percent less.

Contrast this with Florida’s public sector, where layoffs are rare and salary scales remain impervious to market realities. As for pensions, the state’s $124 billion retirement program remains one of just seven state systems that requires no employee contributions. Such lush treatment seems incongruous, if not wholly unfair, in a “right-to-work” state.

Though many of Florida’s public-sector workers haven’t received cost-of-living increases in recent years (when inflation has been low), few have been subjected to the severe buffetings suffered by their private-sector counterparts. Private-sector unions have begun to notice the disparate treatment.

In an article titled “Labor’s Coming Class War,” the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn reports that the 100,000-member Building and Construction Trades Council of New York is warming to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for a public-sector wage freeze.

This break in union solidarity isn’t so surprising, given that unemployment among Trades Council members currently stands at 20 percent. Surely, Florida’s anemic private-sector unions see a similar disconnect here.

Across the country, private-sector workers (union and nonunion) sense that their states’ public-employee perks, including fully paid pension plans, are simply not sustainable.

Govs. Mitch Daniels (Indiana) and Matt Blunt (Missouri) issued executive orders to end collective bargaining. Newly elected Govs. John Kasich (Ohio) and Scott Walker (Wisconsin) are targeting collective bargaining, as well.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire businessman, sees this state’s pension program as low-hanging fruit ripe for reform. Florida could net $1.3 billion in annual savings if government employees were required to contribute just 5 percent of their salaries.

Scott hasn’t expressly called for an end to collective bargaining — which could begin to effect such changes — but the writing is on the wall.

Actually, it’s been on the wall for some time. Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned back in 1937 that collective bargaining “cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

He could have said the same about gold-plated pension programs that impose ever-greater tax burdens on the economy’s productive private sector and taxpayers at large.

FDR was, in fact, a radical. But compared to the reactionary and self-serving bluster coming from Florida’s AFL-CIO, he sounds positively pragmatic. The more public unions fight reform, the less support they’ll receive from the public that pays the bills.

Reach Kenric Ward at or at (772) 801-5341.

NY Times: States Seek Laws to Curb Power of Unions

January 4, 2011. Labor leaders say it’s Republican payback for unions’ support of Democratic political candidates

By Steven Greenhouse

Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.

State officials from both parties are wrestling with ways to curb the salaries and pensions of government employees, which typically make up a significant percentage of state budgets. On Wednesday, for example, New York’s new Democratic governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, is expected to call for a one-year salary freeze for state workers, a move that would save $200 million to $400 million and challenge labor’s traditional clout in Albany.

But in some cases — mostly in states with Republican governors and Republican statehouse majorities — officials are seeking more far-reaching, structural changes that would weaken the bargaining power and political influence of unions, including private sector ones.

For example, Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries. In Ohio, the new Republican governor, following the precedent of many other states, wants to ban strikes by public school teachers.

Some new governors, most notably Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are even threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts.


Retirement Bills Update: HB 5701 Targets Health Insurance Subsidy for Retirees, Portions of HB 1319 May Emerge in Other Legislation: Contact Legislators!

April 2, 2010. SB 2022 passes Senate vote, Will re-establish employee contribution to FRS for first time since 1974, FEA remains vigilant and calls/emails have caused legislators to rethink their actions

Retirement Bills — Summary of 2010 Legislative Activity

HB 5701 by Rep. Rivera, R-112, Miami, a bill eliminating the Health Insurance Subsidy passed the House of Representatives.  In a House Floor vote this afternoon, HB 5701 first failed on a vote of 57 yeas and 59 nays.  But the House Leadership immediately pushed through a motion to reconsider this vote under which HB 5701 failed to pass.  After winning the Motion to Reconsider, the House voted again on HB 5701 and with this vote passed HB 5701 on a vote of 63 yeas and 56 nays.  (HIS) for FRS retirees

Legislators who changed their vote from “no” to “yes” on the second vote on HB 5701 are Homan (R-60, Tampa), Kelly (R-24, Ocala), Kreegel (R-72, Punta Gorda), McBurney (R-16, Jacksonville), and Trudy Williams (R-75, Ft. Myers).  Legislators who did not vote at all on the 1st vote on HB 5701, but voted “yes” on the second vote are Adams (R-33, Oviedo), Eisnaugle (R-40, Orlando), and Kelly (R-24, Ocala).

The bill is being sent immediately to the Senate for Senate consideration and a Senate floor vote.  This bill would have eliminated a benefit that all retirees under the FRS receive; consisting of a $5 per month subsidy for every year they worked. The subsidy is capped to 30 years, which equals up to $150 per month subsidy toward their monthly insurance coverage.

Contact your Senators and urge them to vote “no” on HB 5701.  To find your Senators, go and look for “Find Your Legislators” at the bottom of the menu on the left side of the web site.

HB 1319 by Rep. Grady, R-76, Naples, remains stalled in the House Committee on Governmental Affairs Policy.  The bill has never received a hearing in the Committee and the Committee has now concluded its hearings for the 2010 Legislative Session.  However, there are still significant threats to pensions.  The possibility remains that 1319 (or pieces of it) might be amended onto another piece of legislation.  Keep those phone calls and emails going into Legislators offices urging them to oppose HB 1319 and any attempts to amend it onto other legislation.

HB 1543 by Rep. Zapata, R-119, Miami, has been withdrawn from further consideration during this 2010 Legislative Session.

SB 2022 by Senator J.D. Alexander, R-17, Lake Wales, passed a Senate floor vote on Wednesday, March 31, 2010, despite public testimony against the bill from FEA, AFSCME, the Police Benevolent Association, and the Firefighters when Senator Alexander held hearings on the bill on March 25, 2010.  SB 2022 re-establishes an employee contribution – which has not existed since July 1, 1974.  Although this bill does not propose reductions to FRS retirement benefits, it does propose that beginning July 1, 2010, public employees participating in the FRS plan AND the optional retirement plan begin making employee contributions to the respective plan  Employees participating in FRS retirement will be hit with a contribution rate of 0.25 % of their gross annual compensation (payroll deduction).  If passed into law, the contribution rates would be set by law in the annual rate bill.  This bill will probably be sent to the House for consideration and a House floor vote.  Contact your Legislators and urge them to vote “no”.

SB 1902 by Senator Mike Bennett, R-21, Bradenton, is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Community Affairs on April 7, 2010.  This bill addresses issues applicable to the Special Risk class of participants in FRS (i.e., police, firefighters, and emergency responders).  However, the bill also includes provisions that could be construed as applicable to other FRS participant classes.  These provisions limit the benefits payable to a member of a retirement system or plan who has not attained ten years of service by July 1, 2010, to not exceed 70 percent of his or her highest annual base pay, excluding overtime and other additional compensation. This section limits the benefits to 90 percent in situations where the member’s employer does not participate in the federal Social Security Act.

FEA remains vigilant in opposing FRS changes

We are operating in a very fluid situation on the retirement bills proposed during the 2010 Legislative Session.  Although the 30 retirement bills introduced in this 2010 Legislative Session has whittled down to 2 or 3 active ones, we must remain vigilant in our opposition to changes in FRS retirement benefits.   The extraordinary response from FEA members voicing their opposition to any reduction in FRS retirement benefits has slowed or stalled all but two or three of these bills.  However, the legislative process operates in a way that makes it possible for any part, or all, of a stalled bill to be amended onto some other piece of legislation.  This is why we must continue to voice our opposition, despite the lack of specifics regarding which bill number may be moved to committee or floor vote or amended onto other legislation. We must not allow FEA members to become discouraged or confused by Legislators who respond by saying these bills are dead, or that we have our facts wrong.  There remain legislators who hope to slide through changes and reductions in retirement benefits by playing word games with those opposing these changes and by disguising these changes under cover of non-retirement legislation that is still active.

FEA Statement of Position on All Retirement Bill

FEA remains OPPOSED to any changes to the Florida Retirement System that would result in reduced benefits or out-of-pocket costs for public employees and retirees.  FEA remains opposed to any changes to, or the elimination of, the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).  FEA is opposed to any attempt to reduce or eliminate the Health Insurance Subsidy (HIS).  FEA is opposed to out-of-pocket costs – an employee’s contribution – for a participating membership in the defined benefit plan.  And, FEA is opposed to retreating from a true Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)

While the FRS system experienced a short term loss in the recent market down turn, we know that the system is invested for the long term and is a financially sound, expertly run retirement system.  The Legislature is focusing on the Florida Retirement System (FRS) and all employee benefits to raise revenues to address the state’s budget shortfall.  These bills have been filed to slow or eliminate the long-term costs of employee benefit programs to the state.

You help is still needed by keeping the pressure on your legislators about these issues and by calling or writing to let them know that they must defend and protect the public employee participants in the Florida Retirement System.

Contact legislative leaders today

Senate Contact

·       Senate President Jeff Atwater

§       Capitol Office 850-487-5229

§       District Office 561-625-5101

§       Email

House Contact

·       House Speaker Larry Cretul

§       Capitol Office 850-488-1450

§       District Office 352-873-6564

§       Email

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.

The Legislative Attack on FRS Pensions

March 25, 2010. Deluge of messages to legislators derails HB 1319 from fast track, “Significant threats to pensions” remain, “They are coming at us from all directions.”

Dear Colleague:

Thank you for your strong response to the legislative attacks on the Florida Retirement System (FRS).   As a result of the flood of messages legislators are receiving, the enthusiasm for using money from FRS funds to cover part of the $3 billion budget hole in Florida has slowed.  HB 1319 (Grady) no longer appears headed on a fast track for final vote.  (In any event, the legal counsel for the Florida Education Association informs us that Florida law has been interpreted as meaning a pension contribution already vested becomes a property right and cannot be taken away by legislators).

However, there are still significant threats to pensions.  Several bills have been filed that would subtract funds from the FRS pension fund.  The possibility remains that 1319 (or pieces of it) might be amended onto another piece of legislation.  Because a bill can move quickly depending on circumstances, and because there are several legislators now targeting teachers, faculty, and public employees for severe treatment, we expect there will be legislators ready to move against our interests at any time — up to and including the end of the session.  As one education lobbyist put it, “They are coming at us from all directions.  ”

The safest path for faculty who want to defend pensions is to leave phone messages for legislators each week (only one or two sentences) until the session closes. The message is: Oppose any reduction in FRS pensions.

You can find the phone numbers for your senators and representatives at .  Click “find representative” and enter your address.


Tom Auxter

President, United Faculty of Florida