In the most dramatic show of opposition in the state, more than 6,300 of Miami-Dade's 21,260 public-school teachers took a personal or sick day Monday to protest controversial legislation that would overhaul their pay.
Though schools remained open and were staffed by substitute teachers, the "sickout" — though most teachers said they took personal days — was large enough to disrupt the day for thousands of schoolchildren.
Later, more than 1,000 teachers gathered at Tropical Park in Westchester to drive the point home.
That Monday's protest took place in the diverse, largely low-income Miami-Dade school district — the state's largest — was enough to catch the attention of Gov. Charlie Crist, who has until Friday to sign or veto the bill.
"I ran to be the people's governor and it's very helpful to hear from the people," Crist told The Miami Herald on Monday. "It's enormously helpful."
The message he's hearing from most people: Veto the bill.
Between March 1 and Monday, Gov. Crist's office had logged 15,694 calls, 1,869 letters and more than 18,000 individual e-mails opposing the bill. That's compared to 264 calls, 11 letters and 80 e-mails in support. He's gotten an additional 33,000 calls that staffers haven't yet been able to categorize.
Lawmakers on both sides of the debate predict the bill won't have a chance this session if Crist vetoes it.
"If the governor vetoes this bill, the bill's dead," said state Rep. Esteban "Steve" Bovo, a Hialeah Republican who voted for it.
The new legislation would base teacher raises on student test scores — not on years of experience or education level. School districts throughout the state would have to divert 5 percent of their budgets to the state to fund the changes. They would also have to create and administer a new set of exams to all students.
Supporters say the law would reward top teachers and promote effective teaching strategies. But opponents say the legislation doesn't account for differences in schools. They say the new rules would make it difficult to attract and retain quality teachers in Florida.
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