Gov. Scott applauds teachers, touts pay raise
Nicolas Sequiera stood on stage in the Alexander Elementary School auditorium Friday and told his peers he appreciates teachers for helping him solve math problems and instilling “the wonder of getting lost in a good book.”
“Teachers are extremely important,” Nicolas, 9, said. “Teachers expand knowledge.”
Gov. Rick Scott, standing behind the 4th grade student, clapped to show his approval.
Scott was at the elementary school Friday on the last stop of a five-city tour promoting a newly approved state budget that includes teacher pay raises. Previous stops included schools in Sunrise, West Palm Beach, Ponte Vedra and Ocoee.
The governor was introduced in Tampa to the sounds of a marching band and raucous applause from Alexander elementary students and administrators.
The event had a celebratory air and the atmosphere of a campaign rally. A banner displayed on stage proclaimed that his visit to the school was the “Gov. Rick Scott Teacher Pay Raise Pep Rally.”
Scott's appearance at the five Florida schools coincided with Teacher Appreciation Week – and comes at a time when education spending remains a popular issue with voters, who will decide in 2014 whether the Republican governor will get a second term.
“You each have a favorite teacher, don't you?” Scott asked the crowd. “You think they deserve a raise?”
The students chimed “Yes!”
“I'm proud to be governor at a time when we could give our teachers pay raises,” Scott said.
Lawmakers this year increased education spending by $1 billion. That includes $480 million for teacher pay raises, although not the $2,500 across-the-board increases Scott had proposed.
Instead, teachers can qualify for a range of raises developed by local school boards; the raises would take effect in June 2014.
Scott said he still wants the pay raises to be across the board but added “there will be flexibility in all school districts.”
Teachers will be ranked on a scale and those graded as effective will be eligible for a $2,500 pay raise; those ranked as highly effective would be eligible for $3,500.
Hillsborough County School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she's confident the county's teachers will get the raises they deserve, despite how their eligibility is tied to student performance.
“Teachers are used to ratings,” Elia said. “They have been doing it for centuries. Teachers want to improve because they want their students to improve.”
Scott has received criticism from Democrats, educators and parents' groups because of a billion-dollar cutback in education funding during his first year.
Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said earlier this week that the governor doesn't have a stellar record when it comes to education.
“Gov. Scott knows he has been a disaster for public education, our children and our teachers for three years,” Arcenaux said.
Scott has credited the state's rebounding economy on giving lawmakers the resources needed to increase education spending.
“When I first got into office, we had a $3 billion deficit,” Scott said Friday. “I believe in kids, I believe in teachers, I believe in schools.”
Jeanette Lipstein, a third grade teacher at Alexander elementary, said she appreciates the governor's efforts.
“We did not enter this profession to get rich,” Lipstein said. “But we appreciate it when our hard work gets recognized.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.