Manatee County School Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy supports a proposed millage increase that voters will decide next March.
However, the school board, he concedes, has work to do to convince voters the district needs the additional revenue for teacher pay raises and other needs.
“We need to educate the public on exactly what we’re going to use that money for,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy was one of the featured speakers at the monthly meeting Thursday of the Manatee Tiger Bay Club at Pier 22.
Kennedy pointed out that the millage increase can’t pass unless voters want it. In his experience, voters want better for public school teachers, no matter what their party affiliation is, he said.
“I have conversations all the time with people outside of education who say, ‘You know, it’s such a shame that teachers make such little money because they do such an important job,’” said Kennedy. “This is not a right and left thing. Education is one of those issues where there’s so much bipartisan agreement.”
Kennedy said that one of the reasons he’d like to see the millage rate increase is because of the effects of House Bill 7069, a bill that – among other things – gives privately-run charter schools access to public money.
Cynthia Saunders, the district’s deputy superintendent of instruction and Amy Lee, a self-described education activist, warned attendees about the danger of attaching too many rules and regulations to tests. Test scores are linked to grants for schools, pay raises and the success of students.
Saunders said that the dependence on student performance adds stress and anxiety for teachers. Students feel the heat from these rules too, said Lee, who participates as a Facebook administrator for a group fighting for the right to opt out of mandated standardized testing.
“Not everyone fully understands the true devastating effects of the anxiety on students in our classrooms,” said Lee. “We get messages from parents that say ‘I’ve had to take my child to counseling, they had to start seeing a therapist because they are scared to death that they are not going to go to the fourth grade.’”
Lee said she felt the adverse effect of strict education legislation when her son failed a state exam by two points and was placed in remedial reading classes. She worked to change the legislation from being black and white to allowing room for flexibility based on students’ entire record, not just one test.
“If we think about the world we live in, there are tests applied at every element of life,” said Saunders. “We can’t get a driver’s license without being able to pass a certain level of assessment. Colleges require a certain level on entrance exams as well. I don’t see that the tests are ever going to go away, but I do think that we need to manage them in the best way humanly possible.”
During an audience question session, Kennedy addressed concerns about the Manatee School Board and its history of mismanaging money. In 2012, Superintendent Tim McGonegal stepped down shortly after announcing that the district mistakenly created a $3.4 million deficit in its budget.
“I understand that there are trust issues out there, but part of the message that we have to get out is that is not this current school board,” said Kennedy. “This is not the same leadership team, this is not the same board, these are not the same principals in many areas. It is a totally different district.”