NAPLES — Collier teachers came back from spring break Monday seeing red.
It wasn’t the sunburn. It’s the state Legislature that has them hot under the collar.
“This is a vicious bill aimed at dismantling public education in the state of Florida,” said Palmetto Ridge exceptional education teacher Tess Wilbur-Williams.
The teachers held a rally after school Monday at the Collier County Education Association, 6710 Lone Oak Blvd., to protest proposals to eliminate teacher tenure and link pay to student test scores.
The rally was held on the same day the House Education Policy Council scheduled a marathon eight-hour session to allow teachers to vent about proposals to increase graduation standards, eliminate teacher “tenure” — or long-term contracts — and link pay to student test scores.
The protest may be for naught as the House Education Policy Council passed the measure 12-5 and is now headed for passage in the Republican-controlled Legislature. The bill, House Bill 7189, is backed by Republican legislative leaders and influential business groups, as well as Gov. Charlie Crist and his predecessor, Jeb Bush.
The Senate has passed an identical bill, Senate Bill 6. That means approval by the full House, which could come later this week, would send the measure to Crist’s desk. The House panel rejected a series of amendments offered by Democrats, any one of which would have forced the bill back to the Senate for another vote.
Golden Gate Middle School physical education teacher Sharon Hardman said the policies are ludicrous.
“I cannot imagine what life would be like if I lost my tenure and didn’t know if I would have a job next year,” she said. “The Legislature wants to base half of our salaries on the kids’ FCAT performance. Would you pay a policeman by the number of arrests he made? Would doctors only get paid if their patients got better? ... (Teachers) are angry. They are appalled.”
Hardman said she doesn’t mind accountability in schools, but believes the Legislature is going about it the wrong way.
“I don’t want to work with a lazy colleague,” she said.
About 90 teachers attended Monday’s rally.
School Board member Roy Terry spoke to the teachers and said the Legislature is hurting education.
“There is going to be less creativity in the classrooms because teachers will not be willing to take chances,” he said. “This hurts the teachers most who face the greatest challenges, the students who are English Language Learners or the students who struggle for other reasons.”
Cal Boggess, president of Collier’s teachers union, called the Collier County Education Association, said the legislation has been developed by a core group of legislators who are not educators, nor have they sought the opinions of educators.
“They are not listening to educators, that’s what angers me,” he said.
Terry Clark, a fifth-grade teacher at Lely Elementary School and the union’s second vice president, said the legislation being proposed made him feel like he was promoted to captain of the Titanic — after it hit the iceberg.
“We are being assaulted on many fronts,” he said. “It’s not enough that we have gladly accepted the challenges they have given us. ... That we have consistently brought FCAT scores up. ... We must become activists. We have to start now.”
Clark, who has exceptional education students in his class, said teachers are going to be driven away from classrooms like his because their gains might not be as great.
Clark said he believes the public has a right to know about the misnomer proponents of the legislation are using to sell the bill to voters — that the legislation will rid schools of bad teachers by putting them on annual contracts.
“We don’t have tenure. Any one of us can be fired if we are a bad teacher,” he said. “The only thing we are guaranteed by our professional service contract is the right to due process.”
Following the rally, the teachers went inside the union’s offices, where they sat at long tables and wrote postcards to their legislators, asking to vote against any legislation that would be detrimental to teachers. More than 330 postcards were collected, according to the union’s Executive Director Jonathan Tuttle.
For those teachers unable to participate in Monday’s rally, the union will host another letter writing campaign at 5 p.m. Tuesday at their offices.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers.