Tampa Bay Times columnist Steve Bousquet was in the audience when Governor Rick Scott addressed a group of school administrators and he recognized the scent of skepticism:
“Education changed my life,” Gov. Rick Scott said Monday.
His young life, yes. His political life? Not yet.
Two years in junior college led Scott to the Navy, then a four-year degree on the GI Bill and a law degree led to success in business.
“Education was the ticket,” Scott told 200 members of the Florida Association of School Administrators at their annual legislative conference.
They included principals, assistant principals, curriculum directors and deputy school superintendents.
After the tragedy in Connecticut last month, they want safer schools.
They also want teachers to be evaluated fairly and they want more money for schools.
“Look, I support education,” Scott said.
But these middle-aged educators from all over the state are not easily impressed.
“I love measurement,” Scott said, and you could see his listeners taking the measure of a man trying to prove how committed he is to a better public education system.
They are waiting for Scott to put our money where his mouth is.
But he gave too few specifics, some said.
He agreed that a flawed teacher evaluation system needs to be reviewed “to make sure that it’s done right.”
Grady Cannon, assistant principal of Pace High near Pensacola, asked if the state will find the money to put resource officers in every school. Scott said it’s a local decision because each school district is different and flexibility is important.
“I didn’t really hear what I wanted to hear, but it wasn’t a no,” said Cannon, who wrote the governor a letter pleading that he reinstitute resource officers in all schools and add security cameras and two-way radios for support staff.
“We’ve got to have a legitimate conversation about school safety. What’s the right way of doing it?” Scott told the group without offering his vision of what that means.
Scott’s evasions’ via vague generalities did not earn him trust. The day took a turn for the worse when he brought up his idea to help teachers with classroom costs.
Scott also touted his plan to give $250 debit cards to teachers so they don’t have to buy classroom items, and one educator asked if this were new money or would “supplant” existing funds.
Scott deferred to his education adviser, Kim McDougal, who said it’s a rebranding of a program called Teacher Lead that gives teachers on average $180 for those expenses.
“Unfortunately the Legislature and governors have gotten no credit for it,” McDougal said, “so we’re going to rebrand to call it the Teacher Award Supply Fund.”
A long, slow murmur swept through the crowd, and it didn’t sound like approval.
“Look,” Scott said as the murmuring subsided. “The way I look at it is, whatever we do, it’s not going to be enough.”
Principal Susan Keller of Tarpon Springs Middle School was not very impressed.
“It’s just being called something different,” Keller said of the classroom supply program. “It’s not anything different. They’ve been getting that money for a long time.”
His aide’s gaffe revealed the contempt his administration has for the state’s educators. Whatever good his listening tour accomplished unraveled with McDougal’s swipe at the people in the room. Scott’s lip service to the problems his teacher evaluation law caused for everyone with “it needs to be reviewed to make sure that it’s done right,” without a proposal signaled he doesn’t want to do anything. He’ll just hide behind Tony Bennett’s bloviating about accountability and the need for scoreboards.