Former Florida governor and current Democratic candidate Charlie Crist said the difference between him and his opponent is that he listens and he has a heart.
That's what he told a group of Southwest Florida educators Thursday at the North Fort Myers Public Library during a round table discussion of issues that face teachers and those they teach.
The teachers told Crist, as well as his running mate for Lt. governor, Annette Taddeo, that the onslaught of testing and the scrutiny they face has made it difficult to teach their students.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist listens to his running mate, Annette Taddeo during a round table discussion on education issues with Southwest Florida teachers at the North Fort Myers Library on Thursday.
"Education is the most important issue to us, and we need to make sure it's properly funded, that we respect our teachers and do what's right for our children," Crist said.
"I couldn't be prouder that the top issue is education because little girls like mine need an education, and I'm delighted we'll have a mother's voice with a public school kid at the table," Taddeo said.
Crist, who celebrated his 58th birthday Thursday and spoke to people at a local diner before the discussion, said he's heard a lot of frustration from teachers, and Thursday was no different as they told him about the overuse of testing, salaries, and the state's accountability standards.
The educators brought up two harrowing stories of what they have gone through.
Mark Castellano, president of the Teacher's association of Lee County spoke about Senate Bill 736, which Scott signed into law, that he said created evaluations systems that were undoable.
Castellano said a first-year teacher went through the first half of the year without any help that was mandated, yet two weeks after getting a satisfactory evaluation, he was released without cause.
"That part of the bill is so far reaching in so many ways, but that aspect is going to drive our teachers out," Castellano said.
"That's abusive," Crist responded.
Special education teacher Kelly Slover spoke of the overuse of testing, especially for those who are challenged to even function.
"These kids have to take a test every year to find area or rate of speed. They can't put their heads up," Slover said. "We had a student who for the first time held a cup by himself, and that was huge. It took me four years to do that. All I do is test every day for a month."
Teachers also commented on testing which some teachers said takes up as much as a third of classroom time, especially for high schoolers, as well as their compensation and the appreciation they get.
"We have a $3 billion surplus in the budget. How come more money wasn't put into education? It makes no sense," Crist asked. "Then again, I care about education and it's a priority for us."
After the meeting, it seemed Crist had a few more supporters.
"I appreciate that he came here to hear the education views," said Blair Baxter, a teacher at Challenger Middle School. "I would like the legislators to listen to us and come to the schools and realize we're spending so much time testing that they're missing out on enrichment."
During a brief news conference before the meeting, Crist discussed his reported lead over Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the millions of dollars worth of negative ads with which he's been faced, and his opponent's claims that he "created more than 6000,000 jobs while Crist lost more than 800,000 in his four years."
"I wasn't responsible for the global economic meltdown anymore than he's responsible for creating those jobs," Crist said. "The jobs are being created by hard-working Floridians. My hometown paper said it best; He's the Tin Man, the man without a heart."