LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Manatee County's four school board members urged the local legislative delegation Monday morning to have the state return to nationally recognized paper tests such as the PSAT and SAT rather than the Florida Standards Assessment used in 2014-15.
"It would save a small fortune," said Bob Gause, chairman of the district board. "Not even including the loss of (time for) instruction."
Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton; Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota; Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, heard concerns from all around the Manatee-Sarasota area for the 2016 legislative session at the delegation at State College of Florida's Lakewood Ranch campus.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was in redistricting-related meetings in Tallahassee.
Computer issues and a
month of testing cause too many disruptions to instruction time, Gause said.
And providing the technology and the specialists needed to make the process go smoothly was not cheap. He said the board supported Seminole County Public Schools Superintendent Walt Griffin, who in a letter to the Florida Department of Education called on the state to allow schools to teach toward the paper tests rather than FSA in the 2015-16 school year.
"Our teachers deserve to teach and our students deserve to learn," Griffin wrote.
Manatee- and Sarasota-area colleges and youth programs used the delegation meeting to request more funding from the state for various operational costs and projects. New College asked for a total of about $14.4 million in the 2016 legislative session to fund deferred maintenance, a natural sciences addition and IT infrastructure upgrades.
State College of Florida requested $12.7 million for operational support and remaining funding for the library and learning center.
The Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, which has a group in Manatee, requested $20 million in recurring funds starting in 2016.
The money would go toward delinquency prevention, summer education, anti-bullying and financial literacy programs.
Manatee County projects
Betsy Benac, chairwoman of the Manatee County Commission, thanked the representatives for their support in the 2015 session.
She also singled out Steube for already filing legislation to change the state law regarding serious dog bites, an issue that has come plagued the county since Padi, a local dog, faced euthanasia for biting a child's ear.
"This is one of the most important legislative priorities to the county," Benac said.
In the 2016 session, Benac said the county was requesting a total of about $7.5 million in local projects, including:
n The Suncoast Regional Communication System, which would create a public safety radio network between Manatee and Sarasota counties and improve communication between fire districts, emergency medical services and law enforcement in the two counties.
n Improving the Lake Manatee water supply and water quality through retaining surface water in previously drained wetlands and establishing overland flow regimes.
n Construction and renovation on the Longboat Key Pass jetty, which is currently porous. Studies show repairs would increase the longevity of the Coquina Beach renourishment project.
The issue of medical marijuana came up several times during presentations, with people both for and against its legalization.
Steube has already filed legislation for the 2016 session allowing non-smokable, low-tetrahydrocannabinol marijuana use for certain diseases, such as cancer or Lou Gehrig's disease.
THC is the chemical in marijuana that provides the feeling of euphoria.
Andrew Bowman, with the Healing Center in Manatee Inc., said the Legislature should not interfere with a patient-doctor relationship, and if they were going to legalize medical marijuana, then the low-THC requirements should not be included.
"We need to protect the rights of patients," Bowman said.
Beverly Newman spoke in opposition to legalization of marijuana, saying its production was harmful to the environment and was already using up too much water on farms in California.
On a similar note, Bowman and Robert Clayton, with Florida Hemp Processing LLC, spoke on the benefits of growing hemp in the state, emphasizing that while marijuana was a type of hemp, hemp is not marijuana. And farmers in Manatee want to grow hemp, Clayton said.
"I have a list of farmers here willing to pledge 6,350 acres to growing hemp," he told the delegation.
Clayton said farmers can get between $200 and $250 per acre on hemp, while many tend to lose money on cover crops, and plants such as soybeans only net about $75 per acre.
He encouraged the legislators to consider legalizing hemp farming.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby