Senate bill defeated, educators still worried

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By Steve Waters, Sports Editor

Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed a controversial education bill last week, but according to School Board of Levy County Superintendent Robert Hastings, more controversial legislation is likely to pass without much notice.

Among other issues, Senate Bill 6 proposed radical changes to teacher performance evaluations and virtually eliminated any prospect of tenure for new teachers. The bill was widely derided throughout the state by teacher unions and superintendents, who said it was too radical and unfair to teachers. Supporters argued that it would have increased efficiency of teacher evaluations and raised education standards, especially in struggling schools.

"Senate Bill 6 was so large, there was going to be something in there that everyone could hate," Hastings said.

Cindy Roach, president of the Levy County Education Association, said area teachers were glad to see the bill go.

"Oh my gosh, they are ecstatic," she said.

Roach added that teachers will retain their due process obtained through the professional service contract, which was at risk with the passage of Senate Bill 6.

But Roach said that it is unlikely that state legislators will let the bill die.

"I can guarantee we'll see it again," she said. "That's how the legislators work. You'll see it morph into something else. It's real common, we're on the lookout for it, and we'll be prepared."

The veto was a risky political move for Crist, who is trailing in the polls in a heated Senate Republican primary with Marco Rubio. Crist cited "the incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators" in his veto message as the reason for his veto. The bill was proposed and heavily pushed for by Republicans in the state legislature.

With that controversy passed for now, Hastings said he was more concerned with Senate Bill 4, which has received little attention by the media or public.

Senate Bill 4 adds more rigorous math and science classes to graduation requirements in high schools. It will also replace high school FCAT exams in those subjects with end-of-year exams.

Hastings said the bill phases in mandatory passage of subjects such as chemistry, physics and geometry.

Also in the bill is an unfunded mandate that requires a 5 percent holdback in a district budget for end-of-year course exams and teacher performance pay. With 81.5 percent of the budget from the state already going to salaries, Hastings said something would have to give financially if the bill passes.

Hastings added that one of the Department of Education's goals was to get all students college-ready by 2020. Hastings said that was fine for students planning to go to college, but it will place an undue burden for those who may have other career goals.

"One example I use is if your water pipe breaks at two in the morning, do you want a PhD to come out and look at your water pipes, or do you want somebody who knows what they're doing?" Hastings said. "I just think they're not doing right by all of our students."

Hastings also said he took offense to comments made by Public Schools Chancellor Frances Haithcock, of the Florida Department of Education, when he called a high school diploma a "diploma to nowhere." Hastings said that many students with only a high school diploma have gone on to be successful.