Why Florida’s Teachers and Schools Are About to Face a Smashmouth Legal Fight Over SB 736

Word came yesterday in Jeff Solocheck’s Gradebook that the lawsuit filed by a group of teachers against SB 736 has hit a new roadblock:

The latest twist on the case is that the state’s new lawyer is questioning whether the teachers who filed the suit have legal standing to do so. “Plaintiffs lack standing to bring a lawsuit as individuals challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 736 as Article I, section 6 does not grant individual employees a right to collectively bargain,” attorney Michael Mattimore writes in his filing this week.

He also suggests the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction in the case, and that the plaintiffs have waived their right to sue based on their own collective bargaining agreements.

Meanwhile, the effects of SB 736 continue to be felt, most recently with the release of new teacher evaluation results. The appointment of Tony Bennett as education commissioner indicates the state’s intent to continue forward with the basic tenets of the legislation, even if the lawsuit proves successful. Keep watching as these wheels continue to turn slowly.

While the state’s teachers already know they will receive no quarter from Bennett, the attorney who is representing the state in the matter, Michael Mattimore, will raise eyebrows.  Mattimore represented the Okaloosa County School District in it’s legal battle with its teachers (OCEA) over disputed language in the existing contract. The district didn’t grant step increases that were in the contract and then engaged in a handful of maneuvers – some which weren’t  above-board – to maintain their position.  It is Mattimore who negotiated with OCEA on behalf of the district. This from NWF Daily News reporter Katie Tammen on a  January 2012 school board meeting:

No one from the district actually spoke during the presentation instead they left that to hired attorney Mike Mattimore.

Mattimore outlined the issues at play in the impasse – teacher step increases and advanced degree supplements – and then said the district couldn’t pay the step without running the risk of having to take “desperate measures” down the road.

This from the Emerald Coast Gazette after an April 2012 arbitration hearing:

This will make it the 3rd time that the arbitration hearing will be postponed. The delay, caused Friday, came after district attorneys stated the contract violations claimed by the OCEA didn’t fall under the arbitrator’s authority because the Okaloosa County School Board had previously voted on the issue.

“The School Board’s authority, as the elected body under the law, is binding,” Tallahassee attorney, Mike Mattimore, who was brought in by the district to handle the dispute over teachers pay, stated Monday during the meeting. “I do not believe that the case law is such that an arbitrator can rehear an (issue), once the matter is decided at impasse.”

This round ultimately went to the teachers with the sound defeat of Superintendent Alexis Tibbetts in August. The new superintendent, Marybeth Jackson, came to an agreement with teachers a few weeks ago. One of the provisions was that pending grievances would be dropped. Tibbett’s, a long-time educator, had become more beholden to the state’s Republican party than she was to the district. The heavy-handed power play against Okaloosa county teachers shocked many local residents. Mattimore’s presence confirmed the suspicions that the impasse was being driven by outside influence.

Its clear that Mattimore is the state’s  hired gun who will use any maneuver at his disposal to gain victory. His filing this week is also a delay tactic, but one in which he intends to discredit teacher-plantiffs  in the minds of the public.

The roll-out of SB 736 proved to be an embarrassment for the powers that be, but not so much that they are having any second thoughts. Despite mounting displeasure from voters about the state’s test-dominated education system, those powers that be are digging in their heals by retaining Mattimore. They have to have test results etched into stone as education’s gold standard. It’s why guys like Mattimore and a tainted Bennett are on board and that the court fight over SB 736 will be a bare knuckles brawl. But the overall opposition to the agenda of education reformers is why educators turned politicians like Bennett and Tibbetts were ousted by voters in republican strongholds.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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