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Gov. Scott hears school superintendents' concerns

Gov. Rick Scott and his education advisers held a two-hour meeting Wednesday with superintendents from around the state, who expressed opposition to the House's plan to link a teacher salary increase to classroom performance.

"It's disturbing," said Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins of the House's pay-raise approach, "and
it's just not feasible unless they have something very simplistic, like satisfactory or unsatisfactory." Jenkins said another law puts school districts on a timetable to develop a pay-for-performance system for the 2014-2015 academic year, and it can't be accomplished sooner than that.

Jenkins later told reporters that Scott's proposal for a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for full-time teachers is a "foundational step" that would raise the base pay of Florida teachers, who are among the lowest-paid in the country with average salaries of $45,000.

Commissioner  of Education Tony Bennett promised a strategy including "talking points" for school districts facing a political backlash over the new common core set of classroom learning standards for students. Scott
himself alluded to criticism of common core from Republicans who called it a "conspiracy" at a state GOP meeting last weekend.

"You're all  hearing that this is a national takeover of education," Bennett told the group, promising a "full-blown communications plan" to push back against the criticism.

Scott, who has made education and teacher pay a cornerstone of his agenda, got a resounding vote of confidence from a Democratic lawmaker: Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who also runs the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Montford called Scott "a great supporter of education" and said: "Your steadfast support and recognition of teachers is really, really appreciated."

Also joining Scott during the roundtable in the Capitol were two top advisors, Chris Finkbeiner and Kim McDougal, who gave detailed status reports on pending legislation dealing with education. Scott told reporters after the session that his $2,500 across-the-board teacher pay raise plan is the best approach, and he said he prefers the Senate plan to the House. "The right thing is to do it the way we've proposed it," Scott said.

-- Steve Bousquet