By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Gov. Charlie Crist offered several reasons for vetoing Senate Bill 6, which would have reformed the terms of teachers’ employment – making it possible to dismiss the worst, reward the best, and help the rest.The strangest reason was this: Mr. Crist complained that SB 6 would have barred school districts and unions from entering into multi-year contracts. Yet having spent a quarter century as a journalist attending virtually every meeting of the school board in Miami-Dade County, the nation’s fourth-largest school district, I became acutely aware of the problems caused by multi-year contracts.First, start with a school board most of whose members owed their election to United Teachers of Dade boss Pat Tornillo, a crook who later went to federal prison for various forms of corruption. Year after year, if the Legislature provided an extra 3 percent per full-time equivalent student (FTE) but the compliant school board wanted to grant teachers, say, a 5 percent raise, the formula was simple: Pack more kids into each classroom, then complain about overcrowded classrooms and start agitating for a class-size amendment.Second, to buy “labor peace” into the future, grant teachers a 5 percent raise next year and the year after and even the year after that – even though there was no way to tell how much of an increase, if any, the Legislature could provide, given the uncertain economy. Then, if the Legislature failed to come up with enough of an increase in the funding per pupil to cover the cost of such a raise, complain of a “budget shortfall,” threaten to lay off hundreds of teachers, then stage rallies to get parents and teachers riled up. Indeed, that’s what’s occurring right now next door to Miami in Broward County.Whether as part of all-encompassing legislation or as a stand-alone bill, the practice of entering into multi-year contracts ought to cease – unless each school board can certify that it has an inerrant crystal ball that will enable its negotiators to divine how much money will be available two or three years from the signing of the contract.