Manatee schools prepares to send funding proposals to state

eearl@bradenton.comAugust 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School Board is preparing to back proposals from the Florida School Board Association asking for more money for state schools.

The association's proposals, designed in part to change state funding to school districts, could affect public education statewide if approved during the 2014 legislative session set to start in Tallahassee March 4.

The Florida School Board Association annually asks district statewide to back proposals for discussion with the Legislature. Each district proposal will be reviewed by the Legislative Platform Committee for consideration.

District school boards must approve their own platforms and send them to the Florida School Board Association by Sept. 6.

The Manatee County School Board will consider the following proposals Monday:

• Restore school board authority to levy an additional .25 mills for critical operating or capital outlay needs, or both.

• Fully fund the Florida Education Finance Program.

• Fully fund the dual enrollment programs.

• Ensure pre-kindergarten funding and student-to-teacher ratios are consistent with federal guidelines and recommendations of the Florida Children's Movement.

• Provide a "transparent and independent" system evaluation and eliminate using student performance on standardized tests as the primary basis for teacher, administrator, school and district performance evaluations.

• Give local school boards final decision-making authority over charter schools within the district, including decisions to accept or reject

and renew or terminate the charter contract.

• Apply the same laws, rules and regulations to charter schools and traditional public schools.

School board member Bob Gause said the school board is ultimately held accountable for charter school performance, and the board has supported the charter school platform the last two years.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said rules for funding and capital outlay should apply to charter schools and traditional public schools.

"There should not be lower standards for charter schools," Miner said. "If traditional public schools are required to be built to hurricane standards, it be should be the same rules, or the same flexibility, for each."

Miner added charter schools and traditional public schools need to have the same funding for maintenance. The charter schools' proposal aims to "level out the playing field" for capital funding for charter and traditional public schools, he said, but each would maintain its individual identity.

"It would provide protection for students in positive way," Miner said. "Charter schools would still have a different structure."

Gause said the list of proposals addresses immediate needs and long term needs.

The costs of attending community college while in high school -- known as dual enrollment -- has had an immediate impact on the district. This year the state required school districts to begin paying community colleges tuition for students in the program. Manatee County has budgeted $180,000 to cover this year's costs -- a new expenditure for the district.

Gause said he is concerned the cost of dual enrollment will limit student participation.

"There might be a natural tendency to discourage schools from sending children," Gause said. "I would like to see legislators address this differently."

The state decreased the critical needs and capital outlay levy from 1.75 to 1.5 mills in 2009. When the Manatee County School Board put the levy increase of .25 mills for up for vote under former Superintendent Tim McGonegal in 2012, it did not pass.

School board member Barbara Harvey said increasing the levy cannot be put up for referendum.

Critical needs funds can be used for debt service, and capital outlay is for building and maintenance of schools and other facilities.

"They are restricting local governments from doing that," Miner said. "But we would like to have the authority to be able to discuss that locally and not all the way up in Tallahassee."

"Until we are allowed to do that, it's not even a choice," Harvey said.

Between receiving the proposals in September and the legislative session in March, the Florida School Board Association works on getting sponsors and support for the proposals, Gause said.

If approved, the proposed bills are sent to committees, and can then move through the legislative body for adoption and get on the floor for a vote.

Gause said this can take up to four years.

"The state can't make everything happen in one year," Gause said. "But this is needed to get the conversation going."

The school board plans to vote the proposals at the regular school board meeting at 5:45 p.m. Monday.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081

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