School boards call for funding veto

St. Johns County's senator defends education budget

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter , News Service of Florida

The Florida School Boards Association asked Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday to veto the state's main funding stream for public education, a move aimed at forcing lawmakers to reconsider a decision to increase per-student spending by just 0.34 percent in the budget for the year beginning July 1.

A letter from Tim Harris, president of the organization, and Andrea Messina, the association's executive director, requested that Scott use his line-item veto to strike the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP.

That would wipe out $20.4 billion in education funding and likely spark a special session for lawmakers to replace it.

"We believe the Legislature can and should do better to commit the resources necessary for school boards to deliver high-quality education to all of their students," Harris, a member of the Polk County School Board, and Messina wrote.

The Florida School Boards Association had already asked Scott to veto HB 7069, a sprawling education measure packed with $419 million for teacher bonuses and other targeted spending outside of the FEFP.

The letter suggests the money from that bill could be used to bulk up the main formula.

It also says lawmakers could undo a decision to roll back local education property tax rates, holding tax bills steady even as the underlying property values rise.

"This roll-back rate ignores the fact that some portion of the increase in property values is directly attributable to new development --- new homes, new businesses, property improvements --- which require the provision of new or additional services," the letter says. "There is no credible reason why these property owners should be excused from sharing in support of our education system which is tasked with shaping Florida's future citizenry."

Lawmakers have not sent the budget and HB 7069 to Scott.

Once the measures hit the governor's desk, he will have 15 days to sign them or use his veto power.

Lawmaker defends education budget

The No. 1 school district in the state has also asked Scott to throw out what lawmakers put in the state budget for next year.

St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson sent a letter to parents, asking them to put pressure on elected leaders. 

On Thursday, one of those lawmakers explained his support for the budget. 

Sen. Travis Hutson went into great detail with News4Jax, focusing on the gains in the schools -- especially more money for some of the teachers. 

"I don't think St. Johns is going to take a hit at all. I think St. Johns will still be No. 1," Hutson said.

St. Johns County's senator defended the state's education budget as delivered. 

He knows it's not what all the school districts want, but he believes bonuses for teachers trump other concerns. Teachers qualify for bonuses through performance, including teachers who score well taking the SAT.

"About 97 percent of the teachers in St. Johns County will receiver a bonus -- 850 teachers will receive an $800 bonus over the next three years. And that's $800 per year. About 1,300 teachers will receive a $1,200 bonus per year for the next 2-3 years. And there's about 200 who are going to receive $6,000 bonus over the next three years. So what the Florida legislature did, we need to make sure these teachers are being rewarded. We want to reward them, and we did that in the conforming bill," Hutson said. 

Forson, however, does not like the budget numbers. On May 7, he sent a letter district-wide, saying in part, “This budget reduces the Base Student Allocation by $27.07 per student...and will require us to make cuts that have the potential to impact service to students.”

Admitting the district loses about $1 million in Base Student Allocation, Hutson believes a decrease in that one area is more than made up for in another area -- the bonuses. 

"So about $6 million worth of bonuses is the minimum. Probably $9 million on the high end for the next three years. So what we did, and how I look at it, is kind of a partnership. We took $ 1 million out of the Saint Johns County BSA, and we turned around and put $6 million dollars right back in to teacher bonuses," Hutson said. "And those numbers are astounding.”

 

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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