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Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna urges Florida lawmakers not to punish school districts for mask mandates

Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Media
Superintendent Rocky Hanna holds a news conference at the Leon County School District Office on Sept, 27, 2021 to address concerns over changing mask mandates and policies amid the delta variant of COVID-19.

Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed Florida lawmakers Tuesday as they discussed education funding. He asked them to reconsider a plan to cut $200 million from a dozen school districts that defied the state’s rule against mask mandates.

“We did exactly what our residents wanted us to do. We continued to follow the CDC, we listened to our local pediatricians, and we challenged an emergency rule - a hastily created emergency rule by the Florida Department of Health,” Hanna said, addressing the Budget Conference on PreK-12 Education.

Hanna said it was divisive to cut funding from districts that required masks, especially at a time when a COVID-19 variant had cases soaring again.

“Here now we are again, reopening that wound to punish us simply for doing what we thought was right,” Hanna said, referring to a time when school board member salaries were briefly withheld in districts that disobeyed the order. “There is no consensus. There is no coming to the middle, and when you do things like this to punish districts for doing what the people in their communities wanted, that to me is a travesty.”

Overall education funding is getting a boost in the coming fiscal year, so House leaders say districts will have more money in their coffers even with the punishment.

“In fact, those 12 school districts will get $80 million more in total than they would have at $1.2 billion without the Putting Parents First Adjustment,” said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who chairs the House Pre-K through 12 Appropriations Subcommittee. “So I want to be clear that I, moving forward, will not be very interested in hearing ‘woe is me, oh my gosh, things are gonna be terrible.’”

Fine’s proposed $200 million ‘adjustment’ would be split among the 55 districts that followed the rule.

The proposal would target the salaries of school administrators in the defiant districts who make more than $100,000 a year. Hanna says Leon stands to lose $2.7 million that would help fund a security chief and a chief financial officer.

"Some of these key positions that will be defunded - we cannot continue to have,” Hanna said. “Enough is enough.”