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Leon Schools could lose more than $2M under a House plan to cut $200M from districts that had mask mandates

A man with a red shit speaks at a podium. Behind him, are two photos of children
Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Media
Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna holds a press conference (Oct. 19, 2021) at the Leon County School District Office this Monday afternoon to address concerns over changing mask mandates and policies in the wake of a surge in cases brought on by the delta variant of COVID-19.

Conflict is erupting over a House education budget item that would strip $200 million from a dozen local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to ban mask mandates that did not allow parents to opt-out.

The plan by state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, would cost the Leon County School District, one of the 12 “defiant districts,” nearly $2.7 million. Fine’s proposal targets salaries of district employees making $100,000 or more. For Leon, that’s 18 people, including the district’s Chief Financial Officer, School Security Chief, and the assistant superintendents overseeing curriculum and other key areas.

“He hates public schools,” said Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna said of Fine in an interview Wednesday with WFSU News. “I have zero respect for that man, zero.”

Hanna questioned why Fine would target administrative salaries and not those of the elected officials like him, who made the decision to defy the governor and require students to wear face coverings.

“Take my salary, take the salary of the school board members who voted with me” on these decisions, Hanna said.

“It is intended to reward the 55 school districts, the overwhelming majority of which followed our state law and respected the rights of parents over the past year,” Fine said of his budget proposal which he calls the “Putting Parents First Adjustment Deduct.”

Fine has repeatedly clashed with school board members in Brevard County—one of the districts that defied the mask mandate ban. Most notably. His fight over the mandates came to a head when Brevard School Board member Jennifer Jenkins accused Fine of cyberstalking after the Representative posted a series of what Florida Today described as, “personal and increasingly inflammatory” Facebook posts.

A Brevard judge sided with Fine earlier this month and threw out the restraining order request.

The Senate’s education budget plan does not have a similar proposed reduction. The chambers will have to vote on their respective proposals. Once each chamber approves its own plan, committees are formed to begin to reconcile the differences in order to come up with a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Many of the districts Fine is targeting maintained their mandatory mask policies despite threats of defunding from the state and amid several state and federal lawsuits over the issue. The last of the districts dropped their masking policies as the Delta variant of the coronavirus began to wane during the Fall.

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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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