Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was back in Tallahassee on Monday. The Republican-turned-Democrat was in town to file his qualifying paperwork for the 2014 primary election for governor. Sheria Griffin, a Leon County teacher, filed the papers on his behalf. Crist also took the opportunity to meet with local schoolteachers.
On Monday, Meeting Room A in the Leroy Collins Main Public Library in Leon County was abuzz with schoolteachers excited to welcome Crist. He assured them their struggles were his struggles.
Sitting around a table with Crist, the teachers from
Leon and neighboring counties vented their complaints about the education system, including salaries, low classroom funds, standardized testing circumstances, teacher evaluation systems and performance pay.
Crist said, "Just because a judge said it was [constitutional] one day doesn't make it right forever."
Crist also said if he is elected this year, "We could appoint new judges, too."
Several of the teachers present at the meeting were representing Title 1 schools, where the majority of students are at or below the poverty level. Shari Gawanter is a kindergarten teacher at a Title 1 school on the South Side of Tallahassee. She jumped at the chance to speak with Crist about what she thinks isn’t working in the education system.
"There will be a test, and the test will be what he does when he's in office," Gawanter says. "If he doesn't do what he says he's gonna do, then we'll be there to tell him."
Major components of Crist’s plan to fix education are pumping money back into the Bright Futures Scholarship and granting more state funds to colleges and universities. As for how he plans to achieve this, Crist referenced this year’s state budget surplus of more than $1 billion.
"If you care about education, like I do, then in your recommendation to the Legislature before the next session starts, you allocate a lot more money to education," Crist says.
Also present at the meeting was Leon Classroom Teachers Association President David Worrell. Worrell considered the meeting with Crist a positive encounter for teachers and government.
"It was a great experience and a great opportunity because there have been times in the past where the governor's office door was shut," Worrell says.
Crist says if he were elected, he'd like to use whatever's left of the state's budget surplus for transportation.
"And maybe we could get a high speed rail, too," he says. "Maybe we'll have a governor that actually respects the President of the United States."
Crist and Scott both filed papers on Monday to qualify for their primaries. Democratic challenger Nan Rich filed hers on Tuesday. The state qualifying deadline is Friday, June 20.