The Florida Education Association logo (Pic via candidateblogs.orlandosentinel.com)

The Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit in Tallahassee today, challenging the constitutinality of Senate Bill 736, approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March.

Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association — Florida’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members — said during a conference call Wednesday that the bill “is unconstitutional because it denies teachers their right to effective collective bargaining on wages and terms and conditions of employment.”

Ford added that the “law changes wages, employment contracts, performance evaluations, promotions and workforce reduction provisions that have been previoulsy negotiated between teachers and local school districts.” Ford said the changes swept away the right of employees to negotiate their wages and the terms of their employment, protected by the Florida constitution.

Attorney Ron Meyer echoed those comments during the call.

“We believe that this effort to take away the local control by school boards and school employees and place the operation of public schools in the hands of Tallahassee does violence to the constitutional guarantee that employees have,” Meyer said, “and so six teachers in the state of Florida have stepped up and brought this lawsuit urging the court to find that this bill is unconstitutional and gives us the opportunity hopefully to go back and do this right.”

Vicki Hall — speech language pathologist at Osceola Elementary in St. Augustine and a plaintiff in the lawsuit — said students need effective teachers to learn and that “teachers need collaborative and supportive administrators and colleagues to maximize their knowledge skill and perception.” But “unfortunately 736 provides none of that, forcing radical changes on our schools based on limited data and unrealistic timelines.”

Hall added that S.B. 736 does not reward teachers unless they “agree to give up their professional service contract status and their due process rights,” adding that the bill does not give a dollar “to local districts to raise teacher salary or sustain student gains.”

Cory Williams, a middle school social studies teacher in Sarasota County, said the expertise of teachers has been ignored: “We must turn to the courts to tell the Legislature and the governor they cannot simply take away the rights embedded in the Florida constitution.”

Williams added that “despite all of the talk about local control and less government from legislative leaders, this puts far more control of our neighborhood schools in the hands of the bureaucrats in Tallahassee.”

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