Teacher bonuses a flop in vote
Teachers union balloting shows a 95 percent rejection of the state plan.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published February 27, 2007
A controversial state plan would award bonuses to some Pinellas teachers of between $1,700 and $3,100 this summer.
But members of the county's teachers union were well on their way Monday to rejecting the money in resounding fashion. With 50 percent of Pinellas schools reporting results during a special vote, 2,443 said no to the plan while only 99 teachers gave it their okay.
The vote was lopsided in every school that submitted ballots by late Monday, putting the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association on target for a 95 percent rejection rate when results from the remaining schools are tallied today.
"There's no pattern to it, except the pattern that no one likes it," said Jade Moore, executive director of the union. "It will be the largest rejection in the state of Florida, in the governor's home county. ... It will not be close."
The vote sets up a special meeting tonight of the Pinellas School Board, which must decide whether to stand with its teachers, as some counties have done, or approve the plan to avoid being penalized by the state.
In a vote last week, the board voted 5-2 to keep the plan alive, but many in the majority said they did so only for procedural reasons.
The union's vote comes as districts across Florida race to meet the state's Thursday deadline for approving a Special Teachers Are Rewarded plan, known as STAR.
The plans are part of an effort by the Florida Department of Education to make teachers more accountable by setting up a "pay for performance" system. But educators and key legislative leaders see many problems with STAR, which forces district's to award bonuses primarily based on student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The plan has been widely criticized as divisive and unworkable, with districts having to scramble this spring for ways to measure the performance of thousands of students who don't take the FCAT.
Based on enrollment figures from earlier this year, about 42,000 of Pinellas' 109,000 students do not take the test.
The plan would award 5 percent bonuses to teachers deemed to be in the top 25 percent of their profession based on a formula heavily weighted to the FCAT.
"We have better than 25 percent of our teachers doing a good job," Moore said, calling STAR "a nightmare of unintended consequences."
Another issue is how to measure performance for educators such as guidance counselors and school psychologists who do not work in the classroom, as well as teachers who teach subjects - such as social studies and art - that aren't tested on the FCAT.
Like Pinellas, many districts are struggling with a situation that forces them to choose between accepting a plan they consider flawed or risk losing money.
School boards in five counties have defied the state, voting against submitting STAR plans. If Pinellas were to join them, the state would take the $6.1-million in bonus money set aside for the district's teachers and divide it among counties that approved a plan.
In addition, outgoing Education Commissioner John Winn has threatened to force rebel counties to pay teacher bonuses anyway, but with money from their own budgets.
In Pinellas' case, that would amount to a $6.1-million penalty.
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox has urged the School Board to approve its STAR plan, likening defiance to a game of chicken with the state.
But Moore contends the state is bluffing and that its tactics can be easily refuted on legal grounds. He noted that Winn will be gone from office by week's end. He also argued the five counties that have voted against STAR have yet to be penalized.
He will make his case to the School Board tonight.
"The issue is going to be whether we can get the board members comfortable with the idea that we can do this without costing them money," Moore said.