Merit Pay bill hits senate floor

Tallahassee, FL – The "Son of Six" or, known by its formal name, Senate Bill 736, is a repeat of last year's controversial merit pay bill that was vetoed by former Governor Charlie Christ. Before a full Senate, bill sponsor Steven Wise, a Republican of Niceville, gave an overview of the bill and opened the door to a conversation on teacher tenure.

"Tenure will not be available for instructional personnel hired after July 1, 2011. It prohibits districts from renewing an annual contract if an individual receives two unsatisfactory evaluations, two unsatisfactory evaluations within a three year period, or three consecutive evaluations of needs improvement or unsatisfactory."

Most of the debate around the proposal centered around an amendment by Senator Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat. Under Senate Bill 736, tenure is banned. And all teachers work on one year contracts, regardless of their classroom performance. Montford, who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, suggested giving the best teachers three-year, renewable contracts.

"I believe it will build confidence in our teachers' ranks. If you're a teacher who's been around for 10 years or so, what's wrong with giving that teacher more than a one-year contract. Secondly, it would help those teachers have a commitment to that district. Because at the end of the year, not only does the district not have an obligation to the teacher, the teacher has no obligation to the district to return the following year."

Republican Senator Nancy Detert said if the lawmakers adopted the proposal, it would keep current hiring and firing practices in place that aren't working now.

"With your professional background, you know and I know that if principals would have done their job under the current system, we wouldn't be here now. They had every opportunity to not "pass the trash", but that's what they've done for decades."

But Senator Paula Dockery, also a Republican, said she agrees with Montford. That's because the bill says evaluations have to be based on three years of data

"So in Senator Montford's amendment he talks about a three-year contract at the beginning then following up with a three year contract. I think the first part of that is very important in order for the bill to be consistent. If were going to evaluate them on three years of data then the original contract should be three years. That just makes common sense."

Montford's amendment failed, but questions on the bill continued. The issue of tenure has been a sticking point that has divided educators, even aspiring ones, like University of Florida student Andrew Hecht. He says while he has concerns with the bill, he agrees with provisions limiting teacher contracts, because no other industry has the same kind of job security.

"If you're a bad doctor you're going to lose your certification. If you're a bad lawyer, you're going to lose your certification. And I think teachers should be held to a similar standard. I think they should get contracts and tenure based off their effectiveness."

Allyson Whitter is a first year student at Florida State University who wants to be an elementary school teacher. She's completely opposed to the bill, saying it misses what really counts.

"I feel this doesn't measure the teacher who stays after school to make sure the students gets the material. This new bill doesn't help the students who don't do well on standardized testing, but they are learning humanistic traits they need to succeed through their education."

No vote was taken on the bill today. Instead, it moves to a third reading where lawmakers will vote it up or down. From there, it heads to the House, where members are crafting their own proposal. Once approved by both chambers it goes to the governor to become law.