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Education

Tax Scholarship Lawsuit Causes Rift In Local School Boards, Spawns New Group

The long-established Florida School Board Association is facing a challenge from a new organization. The new group forms in the wake of the FSBA’s decision to join a lawsuit contesting the state’s corporate tax scholarship program and turnover in local school board races.

Florida School Boards Association President Wayne Blanton sees parallels between the election, the decision by the FSBA to join a lawsuit over the corporate tax scholarship program, and the creation of a new group calling itself the Florida Coalition of School Board members.

“If they want to change this organization, they need to get active within this organization, come to the meetings and apply for positions of leadership," he says. " We have no problem with that. We work for the majority of the board members in the state of Florida."

The rival coalition has four members, including Escambia county school board member Jeff Bergosh. He says his group isn’t out to compete with the FSBA, but, “we have voices we feel aren’t being heard. We want to work with legislators, and I think most of us are dissatisfied with the way tax money is being utilized to fight school choice.”

Bergosh, along with Indian River School Board member Shawn Frost, Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler and Erika Donalds of Collier County School Board make up the coalition's current membership. In addition to the FSBA's involvement in the tax scholarship lawsuit they're also taking issue with the association's fees which they say are too high.

School district's pay for the board's memberships in the association, and can run anywhere from $8,000 to $30,000 depending on the size of a district.

Blanton says the coalition attempted to get the FSBA  to reverse its support for the lawsuit at the organization's December meeting but failed to get enough votes to do so. Coalition members say the vote is part of their reason for forming the group.

A Leon County judge is deciding whether to allow the lawsuit against the corporate tax scholarship program to proceed.

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For more news updates follow Lynn Hatter on twitter @HatterLynn