Friday, August 17, 2018

Pinellas County Schools agree to keep up fight against HB 7069 with $15,000

LARGO — The first courtroom decision didn't go the way Pinellas County Schools wanted, so the district decided on Tuesday to spend $15,000 more on the fight against the legislation its leaders see as a drain on local school control.

With little discussion, they decided the expense — on top of the $25,000 already spent — is worth it to hang in the battle against House Bill 7069, which created an expansive, expensive charter school system outside of district control.

"What's really the likelihood that it's going to be successful?" board member Joanne Lentino asked School Board attorney David Koperski, who said that, while he can't guarantee anything, he still believes that the charter school portion of the law is unconstitutional.

And he said the districts who are pushing back are looking not only to the appellate court level, but toward the Florida Supreme Court if necessary.
Board member Terry Krassner moved to approve the extra expense, and members followed suit. No one voted against it.

The sprawling legislation diverted tax revenue from the districts without school board approval and enshrined the controversial Schools of Hope charter school system. It altered the approach to improving low-performing schools, in some cases stripping operations from the districts.

Pinellas, along with a dozen other school districts, sued the State Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education, arguing that the Legislature's move violated the Florida Constitution, which gives districts the power to create and run schools within their boundaries.

That argument didn't sway a Leon County judge, who last month threw out the districts' challenge — much to the delight of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the law's main proponent. He said the districts should stop fighting and keep the money in the classroom, not on "wasteful, foolish challenges" in court.

Judge John Cooper didn't elaborate about his decision, but emphasized that laws created by the Legislature are presumed to be constitutional.

Chairwoman Rene Flowers said that, as the appeal advances, she hopes the districts will have deeper conversations with the justices about their concerns with the bill.

"They may see our points, that placing items within a district that certainly are unfunded causes a huge disparity issue and a concern," she said.

She continued: "Logrolling, or placing multiple bills or items in one bill, is not appropriate."

Despite Cooper's rejection of the districts' argument, Flowers said she was gratified to hear that he found issues and concerns with some of the language in the bill.

"That's the door," she said. "That's a glimmer of hope."

She said she doesn't anticipate that the district will end up spending all $15,000.

Of the 13 districts that initially pushed back against the legislation, about nine or 10 will continue on with the appeal, Koperski said. Clay and Wakulla counties, both tiny, have dropped out. So has the much larger Duval County.

In recommending that the Pinellas board stay in the fight, superintendent Mike Grego wrote that the new law "amounts to legislative intrusion upon the constitutional authority and responsibilities of local school boards."

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