SARASOTA -- Getting the ear of a lawmaker in the state of Florida can be tough.
Officials from three local schools districts, however, say using coalitions and associations effectively can help district voices be heard among those making the rules in Tallahassee.
"We should be building coalitions with our representatives year round," Manatee County School Board member John Colon said. "That is the only way. You have to stay engaged with them. If you don't stay engaged with them, somebody else will."
In a roundtable session Wednesday, members of the Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte county school boards shared best practices, common struggles and new ideas. The joint school board meet
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ing is typically held once a year.
"We share a lot of the same concerns," said Sarasota County School Board Chairwoman Shirley Brown.
Focusing on legislative issues, school board officials discussed major priorities for the legislative session and different ways to accomplish those goals through coalitions and other organizations.
In Sarasota County, keeping local control is paramount, said Shirley Brown, the school board chairwoman.
"We listed that as our No. 1 priority," she said.
Brown also said stabilizing school funding is important which matches a lot of the Manatee County School Board priorities, Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said.
"There have incredible opportunities that we have to meet with the legislators," Carpenter said.
Board members talked about different coalitions and organizations they're involved in and how those organizations help.
All three school boards are part of the Florida School Boards Association, which is headed up this year by Sarasota County School Board member Caroline Zucker. Of the 67 school districts in Florida, 65 are part of the organization.
"We do have power in numbers," Zucker said.
This year, the FSBA is focusing on four different areas, including allowing districts to levy more tax dollars, called millage. Right now, the state caps the amount of millage boards can levy. Millage revenues are often used for capital expenditures.
Most organizations the three districts belong to are all looking for the state to increase allowable millage levies.
Sarasota County has voter approval to collect more millage than the state sets. The other two districts do not.
"We are blessed by having a community that supports our schools in general," Brown said.
Manatee County may ask voters to increase the millage as the district looks to build more schools to handle increased enrollment The board has not yet set a referendum date to collect more local taxes.
In addition, Manatee County belongs to the Central Florida School Board Coalition, made up of 13 districts and representing more than 1 million children and families.
Neither Sarasota nor Charlotte counties are part of that coalition. This year, Manatee County School Board member Dave Miner is serving as coalition chairman.
"We get along real well. It's a really nice group," Miner said.
Sarasota County is part of the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards, made of up 11 coastal counties. Sarasota County School Board member Jane Goodwin called the groups is made up of "donor counties," meaning they send more money up to the state than they get back.
That consortium represents 52 percent of children in the state, 50 percent of legislators and 50 percent of total funding, Goodwin said.
"We should be able to have the legislature look at us kindly and favorably," Goodwin said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.