State Politics

Scott urges school districts to dig deeper

BRADENTON -- School districts will need to better scrutinize their spending to fund a state-mandated teacher merit pay system that takes effect in the 2014-15 school year, Gov. Rick Scott told the Bradenton Herald editorial board Friday.

“If I was running a district, I’d believe in merit pay,” encouraging local districts to closely analyze the question of “where do I allocate my dollars?” Scott said.

But Manatee school officials said that instituting a merit pay system for teachers -- even though they support it -- requires finding money in a district that has cut $60 million in the past several years and is already looking for more places to cut.

“We’re going to have to cut something else to make room for performance pay,” Schools Supt. Tim McGonegal said.

Harry Kinnan, chair of the Manatee school board, said teacher merit pay is another “unfunded mandate” from the state.

“We’re all for more accountability, and even teachers appreciate the chance to show we have outstanding teachers,” Kinnan said. “We’ll have to free up dollars for that, but I feel like it’s going to be a challenge. It’s a challenge to come up with this money and, at the same time, not sacrifice basic programs any more than we are.”

The merit pay system, passed last year by the Florida Legislature, doesn’t take effect until the 2014-15 school year.

But school districts will need to spend money before then to develop tests to measure teacher performance, McGonegal said.

A merit pay system also will require significant negotiations with teachers unions, he said.

Scott has proposed a budget that funnels an additional $1 billion to the state’s education system. But that money essentially replaces cuts made to the system last year, rather than generating actual new dollars.

Scott said he anticipates the state’s economy will begin to improve within the next several years, thereby generating ad- ditional revenue.

In the meantime, he emphasized repeatedly during the board meeting, looking at “efficiencies” will be the key to finding that $1 billion for education and covering the state’s overall $1.7 billion deficit.

He said he has directed all state agencies to seek out efficiencies of 2 to 6 percent, and also will be examining the state’s shrinking prison system for potential savings, possibly through privatization.

Other points Scott made during his editorial board meeting:

n Increasingly parallel program offerings from State College of Florida and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee are an example of a growing competitiveness between state colleges and universities that needs to be examined.

But Scott stopped short of saying whether he supported a proposal to create a three-tiered education system that distinguishes between research universities, baccalaureate/master’s programs and junior colleges.

n The reimbursement system of university and college presidents should be reviewed, based on the fact that more than 2,600 university/college staffers earn more than the governor’s annual salary of $130,000. Scott also noted that he takes only a penny a month for his salary, not the $130,000.

n Scott supports closing what is known as the “Internet sales tax loophole,” which allows online businesses to avoid the sales tax paid by brick-and-mo

But Scott also said he would reduce the state sales or business tax by the same amount that would be generated by closing the Internet loophole.

“I want to reduce another tax to not take money out of another family’s pocket,” he said, “because every business tax is surely passed on to the consumer.”

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.