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Florida Ed Board Remains Unhappy With Jefferson County School District

Lynn Hatter

The Florida Board of Education is looking for a long-term solution to the academic and financial problems of Jefferson County Schools. And board members may take their concerns to the upcoming constitutional revision commission.

Some state education board members have been pressing for a legislative fix that could allow the 700 student-Jefferson County School District to merge with a neighbor. And after hearing the district still has no budget for the current school year, board member Gary Chartrand raised the issue again.

“I’m not sure why we wouldn’t try to attack this at a legislative role that a district that has 850 students, that we wouldn’t be able to have some sort of amendment to the constitution that would allow them to become part of a neighboring district and take out a lot of costs that are unnecessary and aren’t going to students," he said.

There’s no takeover option in Florida’s constitution or state law.  But a financial oversight committee appointed by the board is pushing Jefferson to close down its elementary school and merge it with the district's middle-high school.  That could mean a mid-year closure of one of the district’s two schools and layoffs over the holiday break. But it may not be enough to stop the district’s financial bleeding. Enrollment is expected to fall even more once a new school choice law goes into effect. State board of education member Andy Tuck raised the issue of a partnership with a neighboring school district.

“Jefferson County could send their kids to Leon County and still have a school district in Jefferson County. I think there’s a possibility to meet the constitutional requirements with students attending school in another district," he said.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says the district has not fully explored the idea. Other suggestions include asking for a constitutional amendment to change the rules governing school districts. Jefferson has been a poorly-rated district for years and has seen its enrollment fall 60 percent in 15 years. It is expecting further enrollment drops after a new school choice law goes into effect next year.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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