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Political Squabbles Spill Over Into Leon School Board's Discussion Of $500M Budget Plan

The Leon County School Board discusses the budget at its meeting today.
via educationnews.org

The Leon County School Board’s plan to spend nearly $500 million in the upcoming school year is now available for review online. And it’s also at the center of two district-related offices up for election this year. 

School board members Alva Swafford Striplin and Dee Dee Rasmussen had a terse exchange over the district’s proposed budget, with Striplin accusing other board members of “rubber stamping” the proposal. She also suggested a $350 thousand expansion for  eight more school resource officers to cover 16 elementary schools, should be diverted toward teacher raises.

“It’s a great initiative, and if money wasn’t an issue I’d say we say yes to everything. But money is an issue, and I won’t stop voicing for teacher salaries until we’re number one in the state," Swafford Striplin said.

But that idea did not sit well with Rasmussen.

“If we found a million dollars to cut, how much of a raise would that equal, which I am not inclined to do—How much would that be? Half a percent?” She said.

The two had testy exchanges throughout the meeting. Both left the dais at times in frustration.

Outgoing board member Dee Crumpler admonished the board for allowing the political season to bleed over into the meeting:

“Let’s not get caught up in that. We’ve got a great school district, a great board. Because one or two people have said something to someone that ya’ll have heard, I could care less what they have to say," he said.

Rasmussen apologized.

She is running for re-election and facing two challengers. Superintendent Jackie Pons has four. Opponents in both races have accused the board of rubber stamping Pons’ decisions and have criticized raises given to some district administrators, along with the use of retirees to fill positions.

The board $498 million budget includes no property tax increases. It does include a two percent raise for district employees. Public input is set for next Tuesday, when the board could make additional changes or tentatively approve the spending plan.

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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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