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State News

State education board starts budgeting process for next year

By Lynn Hatter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-980459.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – While only a month into the current fiscal year the state board of education is already looking ahead. It held a budget workshop Tuesday to get ideas on what to include in its annual budget request to the legislature. Lynn Hatter reports, school districts and state colleges have specific ideas on things they want lawmakers to address when the legislature re-convenes in January.

Florida's schools want money for repairs and building projects money the legislature gave them before it was vetoed by Governor Rick Scott who called it wasteful spending. Speaking before the State Board of Education, Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron said his request to ease overcrowding at its Hileah campus was part of the vetoes. Miami Dade is the largest higher education institution in the country, but Padron says it's at the bottom of the list when it comes to receiving construction money.

"That is causing us significant needs in a community that I think is very deserving. This year we got no money for maintenance. Some of the buildings are as old as the campus. And just like us, they lose their roofs, and some of the electrical systems begin to fail, and they need to be taken care of."

In addition to money for repairs, the schools are also looking at new rules surrounding the employment of college faculty. State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan raised the issue of limiting tenure and even doing away with it to the college presidents. Those like Ed Massey of Indian River Community College, chose to tread very carefully around the topic.

"My concern with it is to be sure we are competitive. So we're going after, in a lot of cases, Ph.D's. And we're having to attract them from other parts of the county, and tenure is major to the stability of that I terms of recruitment of good faculty from around country."

Back at the K-12 level lawmakers did away with tenure and also tied student test scores to future pay raises, but they didn't appropriate any money for the new pay system. Board of Education Vice Chairman Roberto Martinez wanted to know where the money to support teacher pay in the state's public schools would come from.

Martinez: "We have a bill with a very good name it's now a law called, 'Pay for Performance'. Are we really paying for performance or are we just calling it pay for performance?"

Elia: "Well I can tell you what we're doing in Hillsboro and we're on our third year we're paying an additional amount of money to teachers for the performance that they get out of the students that sit in front of them for a year. That is a costly thing."

Mary Ellen Elia is the Superintendent for Hillsboro County Schools. The district has served as the state's testing ground for things like merit pay, and Elia says she knows not all districts will be able to afford it. The new pay for performance law also makes it easy to fire teachers, and Elia warns that the state needs to be very careful in how it goes about implementing the new system.

"Professional development is a huge need and investing in staff. You can't fire your way to excellence."

School superintendents want more money for professional development for teachers and more money to get more technology into classrooms. Florida Association of District School Superintendents President Ron Blocker says legislative decisions on construction and repair money, and budget cuts have stretched districts to the breaking point.

"There are some issues waiting 2-3 years down the road through legislation that you expect us to deliver. In order to deliver we're going to need some help on that. That help has to come through financial help because technology doesn't get cheaper. Second, capital outlay. We got no money this year and buildings don't stop aging. And finally, the things we're doing, the mandates we're fulfilling are priorities to you and the legislature. But in reality, there's going to come a point where we can only say, we can only do so much."

School districts are especially stretched when it comes to class size limits. Several school districts chose not to comply with the rules, causing them to rack up fines. The board is once again raising class size concerns, even as lawmakers moved to lessen the impact of the constitutional rule through a series of legislative changes that decreased the number of classes that were impacted. The State Board will have to submit its budget proposal for the 2012-2013 school year next month.