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School Superintendents Meet With Governor

Florida Governor Rick Scott met with the state’s more than 60 public school superintendents Wednesday to address their concerns about his education initiatives. The conversation was dominated by talks of national education standards and teacher pay raises.

Discussion centered on the Governor’s education proposals for the 2013 legislative session, including the state’s continued phasing in of national education standards commonly referred to as Common Core.  The standards have been adopted by some 40 states and are already in place for Florida’s kindergarten and first grade students; they’re expected to be in place for all grade levels by 2016. But, superintendents say the national standards have drawn the ire of some Floridians. Education Commissioner Tony Bennett thinks what educators need is…

“...some common talking points regarding common core. For instance, I know all of you are hearing that this is the federal takeover of education and that this is going to result in a nationalized curriculum, those types of things and I think we have to be very smart about how we respond to that in a unified way,” Bennett said.

Bennett said his office will partner with large employers like Exxon Mobile to mount an aggressive ad campaign to let parents know how important Common Core is to hiring companies.

“And the message will be from the nation’s largest employers: we’re going to hire on these standards,” Bennett iterated.

Teacher pay was another central topic at the meeting. The Governor has proposed across the board pay increases, totaling about $2,500 per teacher. But, the Senate and House budget plans prefer those pay increases to be merit-based, not across the board. According to the National Center for Education Statistics Florida teachers are paid some $10,000 to $15,000 less a year than the national average. That’s why Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins wants there to be a base pay increase before they think about implementing a merit based initiative.

“For this coming year there’s an attempt to raise the floor, to increase teacher pay across the state and we’d like to think of it for three different reasons: one its going to help our recruitment, two it’s going to help our retention of our talent, and thirdly it certainly gives a positive message to our teachers that you’ve worked hard, we’ve gotten good results and we want to show you some appreciation,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins is also concerned about the implementation of merit-based pay, as she doesn’t believe superintendents will be able to dole out the raises in time for this fall. But Governor Scott remains confident he’ll be able to work something out with both chambers of the state legislature.

“The right thing is to do it the way we proposed it. Our teachers are doing a good job, they’re going to continue doing a good job, I think the right thing is to give them across the board pay raises and I look forward to working with the House and the Senate to finish up this session and do the right thing for our teachers,” Scott said.

The House budget plan ties pay raises solely to teacher evaluations, the Senate would like to see some merit-based pay but isn’t forcing districts to do so. The chambers have just over two weeks to work out those differences.