- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

MIAMI (AP) — Florida school districts must move top-notch educators to their failing schools and create individual student-learning plans or face suspension of teachers union contracts and privatized takeover of those schools, the state Board of Education said in a plan presented yesterday.

The proposal, discussed as the state released its yearly school grades, aims to force districts to put better teachers at schools that are struggling to meet standards in reading, writing and math.

“Our goal is to try to get high-performing teachers to the students who need them the most,” said Jim Warford, K-12 chancellor. “Teachers and principals have all told us … the number one thing they need is the ability to attract and retain high-performing teachers.”

But one important teachers union slammed the plan as a political move. United Teachers of Dade administrator Mark Richard said lawsuits could come if contracts are suspended by school boards or the state.

“We’re greatly disconcerted about the fact that instead of joining together all the stakeholders and asking those on the ground to turn this around, we’re getting more bureaucratically imposed, untested, unscientifically supported mandates,” Mr. Richard said.

His union represents teachers in Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth-largest school district.

Florida’s public schools are graded on their performance in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Of the 2,652 schools graded yesterday for the 2003-04 school year, 49 got an F, including 11 that also failed last year.

The proposal calls for school boards to adopt policies that minimize promotion of unqualified students; locate, hire and place high-quality staff before the start of the next school year; and build a success plan that includes educational goals for each student.

The 67 school boards must report in writing by July 15 whether they will comply with the plan, which also would require school boards to close charter schools that have had two failing grades.

Districts that don’t comply face emergency action by the state, including accepting bids from private contractors or other entities to run the schools and moving more qualified teachers to failing schools, Mr. Warford said.

Moving teachers in most cases would entail a suspension of their union contract, officials said.

“Contracts are signed and voted upon by public officials,” Mr. Richard said. “There’s a principle in law … that you don’t go around cavalierly breaking contracts.”

Education Commissioner Jim Horne said he couldn’t recall whether the state has ever used its emergency powers on school districts.

“I don’t have much patience for folks who are interested in protecting a system or focusing too much on the adults. We need to be focused on the students,” Mr. Horne said.

On Sept. 21, Mr. Warford will tell the Board of Education which schools have complied with the rules and which haven’t. Mr. Warford said he expects most, if not all, to comply.

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