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8 posts from April 28, 2013

April 28, 2013

House and Senate release details of plan to give raises to teachers

The House and Senate have firmed up the details of the closely watched teacher pay raises.

Under the compromise language, the salary increases will go to more than just classroom teachers. "School district and charter school classroom teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, librarians, principals and assistant principals" will all be eligible.

The raises must be at least $2,500 for employees evaulated as "effective" and up to $3,500 for employees evaluated as "highly effective." School systems will have the freedom to develop their own plans for evaluating teacher performance based on student achievement. But educators will have to be evaluated based only on students they teach.

The money will be distributed in June 2014.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has been pushing for $2,500 across-the-board pay raises, hailed the deal as a success late Sunday.

In a press release, Scott said he and Florida Education Association President Andy Ford "applauded the House and the Senate’s agreement."

"The language accompanying the funding allows districts the flexibility to develop their own performance plans to award the greatest number of teachers the largest teacher pay raise possible, in coordination with their collective bargaining agreements," Scott wrote. "The $480 million in funding provides enough to give every teacher a minimum of a $2,000 pay raise, while also giving districts the ability to provide teacher raises of $2,500 or even $3,500 -– depending on the plan each of the 67 school districts (plus lab and charter schools) develop."

Weatherford and Gaetz: the happy dance partners of the Florida session

Senate President Don Gaetz often introduces House Speaker Will Weatherford, as the “taller, smarter, better-looking version of the Weatherford-Gaetz” duo. Weatherford, who at 33 is young enough to be Gaetz’s son, calls the 65-year-old “a wonderful partner and, more important, a friend.”

The state’s two most powerful legislators are adversaries in theory, but they have acted more like partners in practice as they set a conciliatory tone for the legislative session that ends this week.

Their unusual camaraderie has led to early passage of three of their four priorities and the resolution of issues that for years had been mired in special interest turf battles.

“After Monday, we will have gone through most of the major pieces of legislation that members filed,’’ said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, Senate Rules Committee chairman, who, a decade ago, served as House speaker.

In the last three weeks, legislators agreed on allowing physicians to package drugs, optometrists to prescribe medications, high schools to offer varied graduation standards and the sugar industry to continue taxing itself for Everglades cleanup. Each had been bitterly fought for years and all but the education bill was fueled by campaign contributions from dueling sides. More here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/28/3370075/rare-legislative-accord-has-led.html#storylink=cpy

Early voting for Dolphins stadium referendum begins Monday amid Tallahassee uncertainty


Early voting begins Monday in a Miami-Dade election so unusual that the whole thing could be called off by the end of the week.

The Florida Legislature has until the annual lawmaking session ends Friday to approve legislation supporting the Miami Dolphins’ push for a subsidized renovation to Sun Life Stadium. Otherwise, the May 14 referendum asking voters to approve the project will be canceled. The results of the ballots cast up to that point would be kept secret.

There is plenty of opposition — including from both local Republican and Democratic parties — to increasing the mainland Miami-Dade hotel-tax rate to 7 percent from 6 percent to pay the Dolphins up to $289 million over 30 years for the renovation. But no one has financed a full-fledged campaign against the plan so far.

“I don’t think there’s any sense in spending the money I don’t have for something that may not materialize,” said Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, who has traveled to Tallahassee to speak against the legislation.

Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, another opponent, has also said he is focusing his efforts lobbying state lawmakers instead of launching a campaign.

The Miami-Dade Republican Party, whose members opposed the deal last month, has not taken further action. Their Democratic counterparts, who are also against the deal, and neutral civic groups have limited themselves to hosting community forums.

As a result, the Dolphins have had phone lines, mailboxes and radio and television airwaves to themselves. The stadium’s political action committee, Friends of Miami First, has raised $1 million since April 1, according to its first campaign finance report filed Friday. All contributions came from the Dolphins and South Florida Stadium LLC, team owner Stephen Ross’ company that owns the Sun Life.

The campaign spent about $347,000 in that period, mostly on advertising and phones to reach voters.

More here.

More questions raised about StudentsFirst petition

In defending the so-called parent trigger bill, Sen. Kelli Stargel has been referencing a petition signed by more than 1,300 Floridians who support the measure. The signatures were collected by StudentsFirst, the education think tank founded by former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee.

But questions began swirling late last week, week three people named on the document told The Herald/Times they had never signed it.

On Sunday, The Herald/Times sent an email to each person who had allegedly signed the online petition. Of the 241 who responded, 212 confirmed their signatures.

"I signed it electronically," wrote Woodie H. Thomas, III, a Palm Beach Gardens attorney. "I'm for any catalyst that brings meaningful change to the public school system."

But 29 people said they had not signed the petition. 

"I did NOT join my name to a petition in support of the so-called Parent Empowerment Act," wrote John Raymaker, of Tallahassee. "Instead, I signed a petition OPPOSING this act. More deceitful, incredibly dishonest tactics!"

Alan Dorfman, of Delray Beach, said he had signed, but felt duped.

"Further information received after signing makes me believe that at best, I didn't get the whole story, or at worst, I was fooled by the signature request," he wrote.

StudentsFirst Regional Press Secretary Calvin Harris said the organization "stands by the authenticity of the signatures."

"Giving parents a way to get their kids out of failing schools by providing educational options is the right thing to do -- we don't need a petition to tell us that," Harris said. "But it is heartening to see that there are hundreds of names of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens making their voices heard and demanding equal access to a quality education.”

Stargel has said she has no reason to doubt the signatures.

The controversial bill hits the Senate floor Monday. It has already passed in the House.

Weatherford and Gaetz school Legislature in member projects

The two most powerful men in the Florida Legislature are steering millions of dollars to community colleges in their districts.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, helped approve a list of allocations for state college projects that included $14 million for the advanced technology center at Panama City’s Gulf Coast State College. That amount grew from an original Senate offer of a mere $300,000, but bloomed in a last-minute addition to $17.5 millon on Saturday before shrinking to $14 million on Sunday night, all with little discussion.

Another $6.9 million was approved for a new Pasco-Hernando Community College campus in Wesley Chapel, the home of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

“The speaker has been engaged in this process from the start,” said Steve Schroeder, general counsel and executive director of governmental relations for the Pasco-Hernando Community College, which now has five campuses. “He’s helped us much as he can. He’s the one who got it in there for us this year.”

Despite a promise by Gaetz and Weatherford that they would bring an unprecedented level of transparency to budget negotiations, lawmakers approved the expenditures with little discussion this weekend.

Both projects are tucked in a $74 billion budget draft that is due in final form on Tuesday. Lawmakers vote on it Friday.


Continue reading "Weatherford and Gaetz school Legislature in member projects" »

More on that Bill Nelson v. Rick Scott rumor here

Bill Nelson looked like the heavy favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to unseat vulnerable Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in April 1990. But as Martinez continued to beef up his reelection campaign account and then-U.S. Rep. Nelson remained little known to much of Florida, Democrats fretted over Nelson’s prospects.

Soon former Sen. Lawton Chiles confirmed the bombshell rumor: Yes, he would run for governor. Nelson gamely continued campaigning, but it was hopeless against the popular elder statesman. “Walkin’ Lawton” went on to crush Nelson by more than 30 percentage points and then Martinez by 13 points.

More than two decades later, U.S. Sen. Nelson is the elder statesman of Florida’s Democratic Party, and the buzz is growing about him stepping into the governor’s race to take on unpopular incumbent Gov. Rick Scott. With many Democratic leaders worried about the baggage of former Gov. Charlie Crist, Nelson has emerged as the potential savior of Florida Democrats.

The latest noise came Thursday when Roll Call, a Washington, D.C.-based newspaper, reported on its web site that Nelson was mulling over a possible run.

“I’d say that’s true, that he’s considering it,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told the newspaper. “An awful lot of people have contacted him and asked him to do so. But — and as he’s said a number of times — he presently doesn’t have any intention of running. He’s got a job to do as a senator.” More here from Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/27/3355862/will-it-be-senator-bill-nelson.html#storylink=cpy

Legislature's bi-partisan legacy: shield more records from public view

In the hyper-partisan Florida Legislature, Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much, but every year they work agreeably to extend public records exemptions and create new ones.

The session that ends Friday will continue the trend toward greater secrecy in a state that prides itself on citizen access to information, known as government in the sunshine.

The 2013 Legislature will close off public access to the email addresses of voters as well as the names of spouses and children of law enforcement officers, corrections officers and child abuse and revenue investigators.

“It’s not that complicated,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who sponsored the bill to shield names of family members, saying it is needed to protect the loved ones of public safety workers from stalkers or vengeful lawbreakers.

“There are all kinds of perpetrators of evil out there, and this is just an effort to build that wall,” said Hays, who could not recall where he got the idea to propose the bill. More here from Steve Bousquet.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/26/3367104/lawmakers-putting-a-few-clouds.html#storylink=cpy

Rep. Patronis is developers' go-to man for loosening environmental rules

Every year during the Legislative session in Tallahassee, state Rep. Jimmy Patronis does two things:

He organizes a day for everyone to wear seersucker suits. And he pushes a bill to change Florida’s environmental regulations, like the one that passed the House last week blocking local governments from protecting thousands of acres of wetlands.

Patronis, R-Panama City, is the man who gives environmental activists nightmares — a charming and savvy lawmaker convinced that Florida would be better off if government would get out of the way and let businesses boost the economy.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Frank Matthews, who lobbies on behalf of developers, phosphate miners, boat manufacturers, sugar growers, power companies and a garbage company. “He couldn’t be more accommodating. That’s the appealing thing to me.” More from Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/28/3369448/lawmaker-at-odds-with-environmentalists.html#storylink=cpy