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UFF Biweekly
United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
21 March 2013
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Election Ties to be Resolved in the UFF USF Chapter Meeting Tomorrow

The annual UFF USF Chapter elections were held earlier this month, and the results are in. The newly elected officers are President Paul Terry, Vice President Art Shapiro, Secretary Greg McColm, and Treasurer Sonia Wohlmuth.

The Chapter also has twenty-three UFF Senate seats and seven FEA Assembly seats, but those races were tied. The ties will be resolved at tomorrow's UFF USF Chapter Meeting at 12 noon on USF Tampa in EDU 150. All USF faculty and professionals UFF members and otherwise are welcome. There will be sandwiches, chips, and soda.

Newly elected officers and representatives will take their posts on April 1.

AFL-CIO Prepared for Florida House Vote on Retirement TODAY

The Florida House will be voting on House Bill 7011 this afternoon, to "fix" our retirement system (see the article at left on Mr. Weatherford and Our Retirement). The AFL-CIO is asking people to remind representatives of the following facts:

  • Florida's Retirement System is one of the strongest in the world.
  • Changing the system to a 401k would cost taxpayers millions.
  • It directly affects teachers, firefighters, police officers and all vital public workers.
  • Dismantling the Florida Retirement System would have a huge impact on Florida's economy.
The AFL-CIO has set up a phone number, 888 / 997-3169, for people to call and be connected with their own representative using their personal phones. As always, a short, polite message for the staff person taking the message is best.

Tomorrow in Tampa; April 5 in Sarasota

The UFF USF Chapter will meet tomorrow at USF Tampa and on April 5 at USF Sarasota / Manatee. The meeting schedule for the rest of the semester is:

  • Friday, March 22 at 12 noon on USF Tampa in EDU150.
  • Friday, April 5 at 12 noon on USF Sarasota / Manatee at a location TBA.
  • Friday, April 19 at 12 noon on USF Tampa in EDU150.
  • Friday, May 3 at 12 noon on USF Tampa in EDU150.
At all of these meetings, all USF faculty and professionals, UFF members and non-members alike, are invited.

Thinking About Next Year

Next year is election year, and that means that UFF will help reasonable candidates get elected next fall, and build relationships with legislators we will be dealing with next spring. Thanks to the U. S. Supreme Court, that means campaign contributions. BUT DUES MONEY DOES NOT GO TOWARDS CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS, so the UFF Political Action Committee needs donations. You can download, fill in, and mail the UFF PAC donation form to donate to the UFF PAC fund. We need all the pull in the legislature that we can get. CONTRIBUTE TO UFF PAC!

Join UFF Today!

Download, fill in, and mail the membership form. Benefits of membership include the right to run and vote in UFF chapter and statewide elections; representation in grievances (UFF cannot represent a non-member in a grievance or litigation); special deals in insurance, travel, legal advice, and other packages provided by our affiliates; free insurance coverage for job-related liability; and the knowledge you are supporting education in Florida. AND YOU CAN JOIN NOW AND AFTER A TERM AS A DUES PAYING MEMBER, YOU WILL RECEIVE A $ 100 REBATE. Come and join the movement.


The Legislature in Flight ...

This may be the year of higher education: the powers-that-be have been making warm and fuzzy noises about restoring some of the cuts we've endured during the last few years. But they want to impose some bureaucracy on us en route. Meanwhile, legislators want to take another whack at our pocketbook.

  • Mr. Weatherford and Our Retirement. The Florida House Speaker has invested considerable political capital into a signature effort to eviscerate our retirement program, but it's getting complicated. For more, see below.
  • Also on the Griddle. The melody appears to be accountability, and the harmony appears to be (unaccountable?) privatization. For more, see below.

Mr. Weatherford and Our Retirement

On the first day of the legislative session, House Speaker Will Weatherford claimed that "Pension reform is about safeguarding our financial future" (time 26:55 on the video), complaining that the Florida Retirement System will need an "additional" $ 500 million a year for twenty years to stay afloat.

Politifact rated this claim Half True, although that may be generous. Politifact observed that at an 86.9 % funding level, the Florida Retirement System is safely above the desired 80 % level for fiscal health. But the long-term bottom line is that the FRS takes money from current employees and employers and invests it, and historically it has done well when the politicians weren't fiddling with it. So Weatherford's guess that the FRS will need extra money for decades is probably just hot air.

So where does his claim come from? Ever since 2008, experts have been recommending that the legislature fill in a "gap" in the fund that arose when some of its investments fell. The Legislature ignored the experts, and this year the advice is to allocate $ 500 million. This year. And the Legislature may ignore the experts again.

In fact, Weatherford's proposal, House Bill 7011 could easily cost the state more than just leaving the retirement system alone. The defined benefits plan receives money from employers and employees and invests it; if new employees were not permitted to join the defined benefits plan, then new revenue streams would be cut off. The mess would take a many years to materialize, but once it does, it could be very expensive.

The ugly issue is whether the arguments matter. As noted in the previous Biweekly, the real issue is converting a (traditional) defined benefit plan to a (401k-type) defined contribution plan and defined contribution plans are more fashionable among some of the louder ideologues.

The Florida Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee is more nervous, and is considering some kind of compromise. Senate Bill 1392 would keep the current options and make the defined contributions plan marginally more attractive.

Considering the long-term financial dangers of shutting down the defined benefits plan, and considering the dangers of making public service unattractive, many legislators of both parties are skittish about fiddling with the retirement system again. The unions are encouraging this skittishness, but every little bit helps. If you have strong feelings about the pension fund, you can always contact your legislators. Remember that any email, letter, or phone message, should be short, to the point, polite, and be made using private (not state-owned) computers or cell-phones.

Also on the Griddle

As of March 17, the Florida House site listed 800 bills while the Senate listed 863. Most bills do not pass, but there are some major ones that the Florida Education Association is keeping an eye on. These include:

  • Parent Empowerment in Education, a.k.a. the Parent Trigger, a priority of former governor Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future. If a school or teacher is officially labeled as a failure, parents could turn to various private alternatives. Unfortunately, parents would recieve unreliable information about these alternatives, and backing out of any such alternative would be difficult. Since parents and teachers already can convert an unsatisfactory school into a charter school, critics claim that this is a solution seeking a problem or worse, a boondoggle for for-profit schools. Those interested in sausage-making can find the hearing online here.
  • Education Accountability would put K-20 students' names, academic records, addresses, attendance records and learning disabilities, all in a single database for research purposes (see the Bill Analysis). Of course, metrics and benchmarks being all the craze, the data would eventually find its way into funding formulas. But the loudest complaints were about privacy. In theory, the bill restricts access to people authorized by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and makes only aggregate information available to the public. But the FEA found some holes in the language, and one education software manager said that the bill would be "a huge win for us."
  • Education creates a Florida Accredited Courses and Tests (FACTs) Initiative to let the state contract out (i.e., approve) components of assessing and/or delivering the curriculum to ... "contractors", not necessarily Floridian. Approved courses must be accepted for credit by institutions like USF. The Bill Analysis says that this is about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but the FEA analysis sees broader opportunities for for-profit educational institutions.
And of course, after at least two bills were entered on school safety, it was inevitable that a bill entitled School Safety would permit principals or designated employees to carry firearms to school. Hopefully this is just a publicity stunt, but considering that South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard has just signed a bill allowing school districts to permit teachers to take guns to school, it's hard to tell.

The good news is that Weatherford told the Tampa Bay Times that regarding last year's cuts, "I have directed our Aprops chair to restore the $300 million as it was taken ... So if you were (University of South Florida) and you lost $47 million in the sweep, you should be getting that $47 million back." Cross your fingers.

On these and other legislation, the FEA will continue to work to educate our elected representatives.


Next Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, March 22, at noon, in EDU 150 at USF Tampa.

Sandwiches, chips, and soda will be provided by the Chapter, and all UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. Come and join the movement.

Membership: All employees in the UFF USF System Bargaining unit is eligible for UFF membership: to join, simply fill out and send in the membership form.

NOTE: The USF-UFF Chapter website is http://www.uff.ourusf.org, and our e-mail address is uff@ourusf.org.

About this broadcast: This Newsletter was broadcast from uff.ourusf.org, hosted at ICDsoft.com, and is intended for all members of the UFF USF Bargaining unit (USF faculty and professionals at most departments). A (usually identical) version will be broadcast to USF-News and USF-Talk from mccolm@usf.edu.

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