Besides enriching and empowering Florida’s charter school sector, legislation passed in HB 7069 was also aimed at disempowering local school districts and teachers’ unions.  During house speaker Richard Corcoran’s victory tour, he lambasted the Hillsborough County school district for its wanton spending, claiming modern school districts “just want to build Taj Mahals.”

Clearly house speaker Corcoran has not actually stepped foot in many Florida public schools (which I can personally assure him do not resemble Taj Mahals). I’m sure speaker Corcoran would be singing a different tune if he had to spend one week in a public school classroom with no windows and no AC in August teaching freshmen boys who have yet to discover deodorant after gym class.  One week of using a bathroom in a public school with no running water in the sink and stopped up toilets would certainly be enough to make him reconsider diverting capital funds away from school districts. Sinks that don’t function actually help save districts more money because who needs soap and paper towels if you have no running water? I wish I had taken a photo of it, but at a school where I was attending an unpaid professional development session two weeks ago, there was a large “Operation Clean Scrub” sign stressing the importance of hygiene over a broken sink with no water. Oh…..the irony.

HB 7069 was also about rendering the state’s teachers’ unions impotent in the collective bargaining process. So much so that journalist Joe Henderson renamed the bill “Let’s Bust the Teachers’ Union Act”

Now that HB 7069 has become law, there may be ways for school districts and teachers’ unions to work together to return the middle finger to the state and help get more money into their teachers’ pockets at the same time. Clearly, school districts will be using HB 7069 as an excuse to give teachers puny raises across the state. The least school districts could do in return is to ensure that the majority of their teachers qualify for the largest amount of funds from the state as possible. According to HB 7069, highly effective teachers are entitled to $1200 but effective teachers only receive $800 and there is no guarantee of even receiving the full $800 as the language of the bill includes the following caveat: “If the number of eligible classroom teachers under this subparagraph exceeds the total allocation, the department shall prorate the per-teacher scholarship amount.” (p.223).

Furthermore, the more highly effective teachers a school district has, the more teachers will qualify for the $6,000 Best and Brightest bonus, thus driving that nail even further into the hearts (not sure that they really have any) of state politicians and their asinine bonus programs. Now that the state has decided to toss the VAM legal hot potato into the laps of school districts, school districts are entirely in control of how many of their teachers are rated highly effective. As far as I am aware, there are no statewide mandates as to how many teachers may be rated highly effective because you have some school districts like Palm Beach County rating over 50% of their teachers highly effective and other school districts like neighboring Broward County only bestowing a highly effective rating on 18% of its teachers. If I am an annual contract teacher on performance pay with high SAT scores working for Broward County, I could likely increase my pay by over $7,000 just by getting a job in neighboring Palm Beach County. School districts, do you really want to be the county with the lowest percentage of highly effective teachers in the state when teachers could easily make thousands more just by working for a neighboring county with a more generous teacher evaluation system?

While unions may be strapped to negotiate job security and larger raises, they can still negotiate generous cut offs for highly effective versus effective evaluations. Some may argue, “But then districts will have to give larger raises to a larger percentage of teachers, thus costing them more money?” Now that many districts have started using a standard percentage basis, instead of honoring their grandfathered step schedules, the difference in pay between a highly effective performance pay teacher and an effective performance pay teacher only amounts to a few hundred dollars more. And let’s not forget that the majority of their teachers are not on performance pay and a highly effective rating will not cost school districts any extra money but it will certainly cost the state a heck of a lot more and could net their teachers an extra $7,000 per year!

At the last Miami Dade County School Board meeting, the union called upon the district to come up with innovative solutions to increase teacher pay.  One of my principals used to always say when faced with the challenges of education legislation, “Control what you can control.” One of the aspects that Florida school districts and unions can still control is the number of highly effective teachers in their districts. By maximizing the number of highly effective teachers in their districts, they increase the the amount of state funding that ends up in their teachers’ pockets, while simultaneously penalizing the state for its usurpation of how public education tax dollars are spent.

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