A least some candidates for Florida Teacher of the Year didn't realize the video interviews they gave during a reception at the governor's mansion would be used in a political advertisement for Gov. Rick Scott -- and one called it inappropriate.
Scott's office disclaimed responsibility for making the ad, which was posted on YouTube by the state Republican Party. Representatives from Scott's office and the state Department of Education said the party used video distributed by the governor's office as a news release, but without any coordination with the governor's office.
"A state employee on state time took this video at a state event and it was sent out publicly to the press and to all our email lists," said Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz. "After that anyone can do anything they want with it."
Added Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick, "There was no coordination, to my knowledge."
Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry won re-election in January with Scott's backing, and the party has since devoted substantial resources to boosting Scott's 2014 re-election effort.
In the ad, five winners of district-level teacher of the year competitions are seen praising Scott, or appearing to, during interviews recorded at the governor's mansion.
The interviews were shot during a reception held as part of Scott's Teacher of the Year Summit June 26-27. During the summit, which the governor's office said was the first event of its kind, Scott hosted 41 winners of district teacher of the year competitions in Tallahassee for an award presentation and roundtable discussion.
The videographer, a governor's office employee, "asked us different questions and said the video would be used for different things throughout the governor's office," said Megan Williamson, a fourth-grade teacher from Okeechobee. "I wasn't told I was going to be in a political ad."
Williamson, a Republican, said she wouldn't have minded even if she had known the video would be used in a political ad for Scott.
"I think he's gotten the state back on track," she said. "I appreciate his concern for education."
But Apryl Shackelford, a middle school teacher from Duval County, wasn't pleased when she learned from a reporter she was featured in video urging Scott's re-election.
"I don't think it's appropriate for me to be in any political ad, Democrat or Republican" as a statewide teacher of the year finalist, she said. "It's inappropriate for me to speak for 8,000 teachers" in Duval County. "I can't say what party they should choose."
At least one other teacher, Patricia Gair of Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers, also was unaware of the ad until informed of it by a reporter, but wasn't available for comment after viewing it. Two other teachers in the ad couldn't be reached.
"I think Governor Scott is a visionary. He's a brilliant businessman," Orlando middle school teacher Dorina Sackman says in the video.
"For teachers on the front line, the investment of the governor in education is paramount," says Citrus High teacher Nancy Smith.
Shackelford, who appears only briefly in the ad, says, "It means a lot to educators as a whole because we know that he listens to us."
She said that was in answer to a question she was asked about the raises Scott proposed for teachers during the spring legislative session, and that she also was asked her opinion of the summit.
Scott, who has been criticized by Democrats and public education advocates for past cuts to the state's public school budget, sought $480 million this year for $2,500 across-the-board teacher raises. The Legislature approved a slightly smaller amount to be distributed using a formula based on merit raises.
Asked about the ad, Republican Party spokeswoman Susan Hepworth said, "Once material is made publicly available by any entity, RPOF and any other organization can use it for other public purposes."
Florida has had district-level and statewide teacher of the year contests for years, but Follick with the education department and governor's spokeswoman Schutz said this is the first time the competitors have been invited to a summit with the governor.
Four of the teachers quoted in the ad -- Gair, Sackman, Shackelford and Smith -- are among the five finalists for the statewide honor, along with teacher Katrin Rudge of Sarasota's Riverview High School.
As he gears up for his 2014 re-election campaign, Scott has drawn fire, mainly from Democrats, for using the trappings of his office to push what the critics call political aims.
That has included traveling the state to hold events conferring "Great Floridian" awards on a larger-than-usual number of popular public figures, including athletes and Republican donors, and holding ceremonial bill signings around the state for legislation pleasing to interest groups.
Such ceremonial bill signings have been common among past governors.
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