JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Members of the Duval County School Board are making the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Tallahassee on Wednesday as the Florida Legislature enters the second week of what figures to be a busy session.
During a workshop Tuesday, School Board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Andersen, one of the members making the trip, talked about three key pieces of legislation that she and other board members will be tracking in the coming weeks because of their potential to have a big local impact.
House Bill 1079
Legislation introduced by State Rep. Jason Fischer earlier this month seeks to create term limits if the Duval County school superintendent becomes an elected position. The legislation calls for a term of four years and states that any person elected to the position of superintendent will be limited to two terms.
READ IT: House Bill 1079
Andersen said she and other board members plan to attend the first committee meeting for HB 1079, also known as Local Bill J-1, on Wednesday morning.
“We will be able to go and express our opposition to that legislation,” Andersen said. “We never miss an opportunity to advocate.”
Duval County School Board Chairman Warren Jones, who along with board member Charlotte Joyce will also head to Tallahassee on Wednesday, said passing the legislation would be a step backward.
“Just because you can get elected doesn’t mean you are the best qualified, it just means you were the best campaigner or the person who raised the most money,” Jones told News4Jax two weeks ago.
Last year, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he supported Fischer’s legislation but the School Board voted unanimously in opposition.
Currently, the district is led by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Diana Greene, who was appointed by the School Board.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared 2020 as the “Year of the Teacher” as he rolled out his proposal to increase to the minimum salary for classroom teachers to $47,500.
Following DeSantis’ lead, a House education panel last week unveiled an early budget recommendation that includes $462 million for teacher pay raises after conducting a “budget exercise” for the coming fiscal year.
Teacher-pay plans, however, have drawn questions from Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, issued a response to the DeSantis speech and said the minimum-pay plan would leave out higher-paid teachers and other school employees.
It’s a concern echoed by Anderson.
“We certainly know that we want to be able to help boost those salaries for our teachers, but what is important to us is that we make sure that our dedicated veteran teachers are also able to receive an equitable salary increase,” she said. “So we need to make sure that the appropriation is enough for us to take care of meeting the requirements and also being able to rise above the minimum salary requirement for those dedicated veteran teachers.”
Anderson said Duval County will need about $25 million to bring educators to the base proposal level. To do more than that, Anderson said, the district will have to come out of pocket of an already thin budget.
Currently, the starting salary for Duval County Public School classroom teachers is $39,500.
Andersen said there haven’t been major developments on the teacher pay front, but legislators are starting conversations about how the proposed pay raise would work on a district level.
Senate Bill 62
Senate Bill 62 (SB 62) is a complex bill, but Andersen said one of the pieces the Duval County School Board is looking at closely has to do with sharing capital surtax dollars with charter schools.
“We know that was a big part of the conversation in our community as we worked to get half-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot last summer,” Andersen said.
READ IT: Senate Bill 62
The proposal as it is written now, Andersen said, requires that school districts include language that shares money with charter schools based on student enrollment.
“This school board has decided to make a master facilities plan that addresses the facilities’ needs and allocate funds based on need,” Andersen said. “The way that this language is written (in the current bill) it is really a per-pupil sharing which may not really provide the most equitable access of the funds."
Anderson said SB 62, teacher pay and HB 1079 are the biggest hot-topic issues because they will have the biggest impact on Duval County Public Schools, but added that there is always education legislation coming up and the School Board will continue to monitor the latest developments out of Tallahassee.