Sun Sentinel By Cara Fitzpatrick
Posted: 12:24 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, 2011
Teachers and like-minded parents have struck first in an expected statewide battle over education changes being proposed by Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s transition team.
They have held meetings and conference calls, traded information via Facebook, planned an education summit and formed bill-writing committees to create alternative legislation.
And on Tuesday, they plan to wear red to send the new governor — and the Republican-dominated legislature — a message that they support public schools.
“They’re hearing nothing but Jeb Bush and his cronies — that’s the whole transition team,” said Rita Solnet, an education activist in Boca Raton who’s involved in an effort to build a statewide coalition of parents and teachers who support traditional public education.
Bonnie Cunard, a Fort Myers teacher, said: “We’ve been absolutely ignored.”
Scott’s 20-member transition team has been led by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools who fired more than 200 teachers and closed dozens of failing schools, and Patricia Levesque, director of Bush’s education think tank.
Last week, the team released proposals to revisit teacher merit pay, expand school voucher programs and dramatically alter how public schools are funded. Most of the proposals aligned with Scott’s campaign promise to get rid of an “outdated system” that relies too much on traditional schools.
Teachers and parents are using several Facebook pages to organize opposition — much like they did last year when Republicans passed Senate Bill 6, a wildly controversial merit pay proposal that tied teacher pay to student test scores.
After parents and teachers staged massive protests and inundated his office with phone calls and e-mails, outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the legislation. Crist said then that it was like no other issue he’d seen before.
Some of the same Facebook groups involved in the merit pay fight, such as Stop Senate Bill 6 and Testing Is Not Teaching, said they will battle Scott, too — but this time they know what they’re doing.
“We need to let the legislators know that we’re more organized than with Senate Bill 6 and we’re not just going to roll over,” Solnet said.
Cunard said some group members sent teachers a template for crafting legislation and encouraged them to draw up counterproposals over the holiday break from school.
“We’re all for improving public schools,” she said. “But we want a voice.”
Even before Scott had been elected, four of the Facebook groups met in Orlando to organize a coalition, Solnet said. Testing Is Not Teaching has more than 11,000 fans, while Stop Senate Bill 6 has nearly 50,000.
They also are inviting legislators and the community to an education summit on Jan. 26 at Lynn University Bachelor’s, master’s & online degrees in Boca Raton.
The “Wear Red to Support Public Ed” campaign, which also has been endorsed by Illinois-based Save Our Schools Million Teacher March, is a signal to Scott, members said.
We’re going to wear red “since we obviously can’t afford the tickets to his party to tell him,” Cunard said.
Tickets to Scott’s inaugural ball cost $95; some other events are free.
Testing Is Not Teaching, which formed about a year ago in opposition to a new curriculum plan in Palm Beach County schools, used a similar tactic when members sent their children to school in orange clothes to show support for teachers, said its founder, Lisa Goldman. That group succeeded in getting the plan scrapped.
Goldman, a Wellington mother of four, said she was afraid of what might be in store for public schools under Scott.
The idea to wear red started — where else — on Facebook.
A Jacksonville teacher, Donna Yates Mace, put out the word on multiple Facebook pages. Within hours of Mace’s post on Stop Senate Bill 6, the page’s administrators had made the campaign an official event. Nearly 200 people committed to it within a day.
Many fans from both pages changed their profile pictures to an image of a red T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Keep Public Schools Public.”
“These sites see a common purpose and we’re all pulling together,” Goldman said.