miami-teachers-protest_web.jpgFollowing protests from angry teachers across the state, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have linked teacher pay to student test scores, and would have eliminated tenure for new teachers.

Crist initially voiced support for the bill, but distanced himself in the last several days as protests mounted.

“I veto SB 6 because this bill is contrary to my firmly held principle to act in the best interest of the people of Florida,” Crist said in a letter Thursday to Florida Education Secretary Kurt S. Browning. “SB 6 places teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs and teaching certificates without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured and without taking into account circumstances beyond the control of teachers. Teachers have an incredible impact on the lives of their students, but they are not the only influence.”

Crist also said he did not approve of the way the state Legislature passed the bill.

“This legislation sped through committees without the meaningful input of parents, teachers, superintendents and school boards,” Crist said. “The incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators has greatly influenced my decision today.”

Some analysts have speculated that Crist's rejection of the measure signals that he is about to drop out of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, where he badly trails in the polls, and that he would run as an independent.

The Florida Senate passed the teacher-pay bill by a vote of 21-17. The Florida House of Representatives passed it by a 64-55 vote, largely along party lines. The bill had strong support among Republican Party leadership, but some in the GOP joined Democrats in opposing it.

Teachers union leaders cheered Crist’s veto on Thursday.

“We applaud Governor Charlie Crist's decision to listen to Floridians and veto Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 7189, and congratulate the thousands of Broward teachers and students who have made their voice heard loud and clear in this long and difficult process,” Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo said in an email.

Broward Schools Superintendent James F. Notter agreed.

“The governor has exercised foresight, leadership and wisdom in vetoing SB6,” Notter said in an email. “I applaud his decision. It's clear that he pays attention to the voices of the thousands of teachers, administrators, parents, students and citizens across the state.”

The message that South Florida schools were not behind the bill came with noise and action. Protest after protest sprouted, and Miami-Dade teachers staged a sickout Monday, April 12, when 30 percent of them did not show up for work.

The loudest support came when the Miami-Dade County School Board on Wednesday, April 14 unanimously passed a resolution opposing Senate Bill 6.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho urged Crist to veto the bill. Carvalho left the School Board’s monthly meeting to join about 200 people outside the building, mostly teachers, in a show of support.

“As we stand together as one single unit, I want to send this honest message to Tallahassee,” said Carvalho, who was joined by Karen Aronowitz, president of United Teachers of Dade. “I am with you, I am proud of you, God bless all of us. I understand that you are delivering the impossible.”

On Thursday, after Crist vetoed the bill, Carvalho said in an email, “The Governor has listened to the people of Florida and has responded to their concerns.”

Aronowitz said the bill was a conspiracy to kill public education in the state of Florida. Its death, she said, opens the door for collaboration between educators and Tallahassee in elevating public education in Florida.

“This is a victory for our public schools,” Aronowitz said on Thursday. “I think that Charlie Crist does understand that the real people of Florida knew that this was a bad bill.
He did something different than veto. He opened the door for true collaboration. We have to work at this together. This is not the end.”

Florida Senate Bill 6 would have essentially compensated teachers based on their students’ performance. It would not have taken into account a teacher’s years of experience or advanced degrees to determine compensation. In addition, new teachers would have been subject to annual contracts, renewable based on performance, instead of the multi-year contracts educators currently enjoy.

Proponents of the bill say that it would have injected powerful new accountability into the public school system, while rewarding the best teachers with more money, and earlier in their careers.

At the Wednesday, April 14 protest, Aronowitz was buoyed by school board support, but was also worried that there would be an exodus of teachers if Crist allowed the bill to become law.

“We have had bad bills before in this county, but eventually we get rid of the people behind the bill, and the bill,” Aronowitz said. “It’s not easy to get them to go away, but neither are we.”

The chants of “Kill the Bill!” and “What do we want? Veto! When do we want it? Now!” drowned out the sounds of the nearby Miami Metromover on Wednesday as it rolled past school district headquarters. A hearse with a sign that read, “Kill Bill” rolled by a few times.

Inside school board chambers, teacher after teacher paraded before the board, defending their honor and dismissing the bill.

A.M. Milam K-8 Center Science Teacher Roshanda Lavender said she came out Wednesday to show support for her peers and everyone involved in the education process. She has been a teacher for 11 years.

She said Tallahassee has no idea of the amount of hats she has to wear every day as a teacher: counselor and peacemaker, to name a few.

“I am hoping and praying that he won’t sign the bill,” Lavender said on Wednesday. “But when politics is involved, who knows what can happen?”
Lavender’s prayers did not go unanswered.

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Fredrick Ingram, of the United Teachers of Dade union, rallies protesting teachers against Senate Bill 6.