Senate Bill 736 Fight Continues with FEA Member Lobbying

Our Stories are Just as Important

Advocate Spring 2012

Like their sisters and brothers in other FEA locals, the Seminole Education Association (SEA) fought hard against Senate Bill 736 last year. The bill, the latest in a string of
anti-teacher legislation aimed at penalizing
educators and chipping away at
continuing contracts, will tie teacher pay
to student FCAT performance.

Unwilling to leave anything to chance, the profiteers who have been peddling high-stakes testing, like the FCAT, are now pushing the Florida Department of Education to change the FCAT grading formula so that more schools will receive failing grades — thus opening them up to private firms seeking profit. But the fight against SB 736 continues — through ongoing member-to-member organizing and a new round of grassroots legislative action spurred on by members of the SEA.

At the 2011 FEA Delegate Assembly, SEA brought forward a resolution on behalf of their ESE teachers addressing the problem of their being unfairly evaluated by the FCAT and setting them up for failure. “ESE kids with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) are being tested by grade level, not by where their IEP says they should be,” said Sue Carson, SEA vice president and an ESE teacher at Wicklow Elementary.
“So we’ve got 5th graders reading at a 3rd grade level being judged at 5th grade
level. Then the Legislature will come
around with these new valued-added
evaluation methods and tell me I’m not
doing a good enough job.”

The resolution got such overwhelming
support that it was amended to cover all non-FCAT subject teachers. Following the Delegate Assembly, FEA staff then worked with Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) to draft SB 1380 (Instructional Personnel) which she introduced this legislative session.

FEA locals from around the state contacted their representatives and traveled to Tallahassee to meet with legislators about SB 1380. Some locals, like the SEA, the Gadsden ESPA and the St. Johns Education Association (SJEA), used their lobbying trips as an organizing tool for building their locals.

‘Our Stories are Just as Important’

SEA President K.T. Caldwell was part of her local’s delegation, which met with central Florida legislators and Education Committee Chair Sen. Wise (R-Jacksonville) in early February.

“Our work around SB 736 has been a
reinvigoration,” she said. “The FEA staff
has inspired us to come up to Tallahassee
and speak out and tell our personal
stories. SB 736 is just another of the
unfunded mandates being pushed onto public schools and teachers. Teachers are being bullied to perform.

FEA members

Everyone from the administrators, to the teachers and custodians, to the students are under such pressure to perform.” Sue Carson, who was the driving force behind SEA's resolution at the FEA Delegate Assembly, had been to the Capitol for lobbying before and her experience helped her local's delegation get their foot in the door.

“I had learned the tricks of the trade before and we put that knowledge to use,” said Carson. “You just have to look like you know you belong there and know what you’re doing.”

Carson’s experience came in handy when Rep. Dorworth cancelled his meeting with them. The SEA’ers went to his office anyway, where they happened to run into some folks from the Florida Farm Bureau they knew from Seminole County who had been meeting with Dorworth. When Carson asked him for a photo he talked for a few minutes and ended up rescheduling their meeting for later in the day. All because they refused to take “no” for an answer.

Becky Dumes, SEA’s PAC chair, feels more prepared for their next visit. “It requires an assertiveness that builds up. Now we all feel more comfortable and confident for our next meeting. It was empowering to get through and meet with our representative, who we normally don’t have access to.”

Carson hopes other locals will keep coming to the capitol next session and beyond. “It’s important for other union members to come to Tallahassee and know that our elected officials work for us. We belong in Tallahassee, in the halls of the Legislature. They’re not doing you a favor meeting with you, they’re doing their job!"

'It's a great An organizing tool'

SJEA President Dawn Chapman, has been meeting with legislators in the district since late last year — before they came to
Tallahassee for session, “We felt like it was
important to develop relationships with our elected officials. We might not agree on all the issue but we’ve developed mutual
respect and understanding.”

Those meetings were just the first
step. “As a new local president I was terrified about bringing members up to Tallahassee; I didn’t know my way around the Capitol and was intimidated by the legislators. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be a good leader. So I made an appointment with Lynda Russell and shadowed her for a day to see how the process works. It was great. After that I was able to tell our members exactly what to expect,” said Chapman.

After that initial visit, Chapman brought a different group of SJEA member activists to the Capitol every Tuesday and Wednesday of the 2012 Legislative session. “We put out a call for members to come to Tallahassee each week. A lot of people
came that I’d only just met. It’s been a great way to build our local, we’re using it as an organizing tool. I even recruited a member after reading her Letter to the Editor in the St. Augustine Record.”

Kyle Arnold, building rep at Julington Creek, explained why he came up the first week of February, “Morale is down because the Legislature is constantly telling us how
to do our jobs. It’s hard because of all the
new rules and systems that don’t seem like
they’re designed to help, but rather punish
teachers. Other teachers in St. Johns really
appreciate their fellow teachers coming up
to Tallahassee on their behalf.”

Kristen Bailey said it was also about
solidarity, “St. Johns county might not get
hit as hard [as other school districts] but it’s about protecting our profession.”



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