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Florida Governor Seeks Swift Action On Rule To Implement Merit-Pay Plan

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Gov. Robert Graham of Florida, concerned about possible delays in setting up a merit-pay plan for teachers, has asked officials in the State Department of Education to write the rule needed to put the state's new merit-pay law into effect.

The Governor's action means that he is, in effect, circumventing the Florida Quality Instruction Incentives Council, a 15-member body established by the same 1983 law that mandated merit pay. Part of the merit-pay council's responsibility was to develop a rule that would provide mechanisms for implementing the merit-pay law. The rule must be approved by the Florida Board of Education; then any programs it creates are subject to legislative approval.

But although the council approved three plans in concept at a meeting last December, it has not recommended one of them in particular, nor has it provided a funding recommendation. Curtis Peterson, president of the state Senate, recently predicted that teachers would not receive merit pay during the next school year because it would take longer than that to set up a workable evaluation system.

The Governor is concerned about the possible delay, according to his spokesman, because the state law requires that a merit-pay system be set up by next school year. If he does not get a rule approved soon, he will not have time to include a funding request to the 1984 legislature in his budget proposal. In Florida, the legislature convenes in early April.

"We have a merit-pay law, enacted last year," said Patrick Riordan, a press aide to the Governor.

"What we do not have is a merit-pay rule to tell the [education] department how to pick teachers, and how it will be implemented. The legislature created the council, but that group, the Governor has decided, is dragging its feet and is somewhat stymied in recommending a rule.

"In order to put some pressure on the merit-pay council to get going," the aide added, "he's asked the department of education to draft a proposed rule to be considered by the Governor and Cabinet."

Under Florida law, the Cabinet, made up of six elected officials, functions also as the state board of education. Acting as the board, the Cabinet must approve the proposed rule before it can go into effect.

The rule that the Governor plans to present to the board will be based on the proposal he made last year. That proposal, to be administered by the state, would create the positions of master teacher and associate master teacher.

Under the rule to be proposed, associate master teachers would receive an additional $3,000 each year. The Governor's goal is to have 5,000 associate master teachers next year, which would cost the state about $15 million. Those teachers would be required to spend three years in that position before becoming master teachers.

The $15 million would come from $80 million appropriated last year, Mr. Riordan said, part of which was earmarked to pay for the addition of a seventh period to the school day; the rest was for merit pay.

Mr. Riordan noted that the merit-pay council has been confronted with alternative opinions that are difficult to reconcile.

The council has sought to require a student-performance component to any merit-pay plan, which means that teachers would be judged in part on the basis of their pupils' test scores.

Teachers' groups, Mr. Riordan pointed out, argue that such a system excludes those highly dedicated teachers who choose to teach mentally handicapped students, who will never achieve high scores. One such teacher is Florida's 1983 teacher of the year.

But from the point of view of the business community, whose members favor the use of merit pay as an incentive, teachers who produce results in the classroom should be rewarded. And without looking at students' progress, this group argues, it is difficult to find a systematic way of measuring merit.

The Governor's plan will be presented to the Cabinet on Feb. 7.

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