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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Breaking up is hard to do

Florida has some of the biggest school districts in the country. Just think about it. Our state has 14 districts that serve 50,000 students or more. That's 21 percent of the 67 counties. Nationally, just 84 districts, or 1 percent, are that large.

In some of the biggest ones, including Miami-Dade and Hillsborough, talk has come up from time to time that not every community gets equal treatment in such a widespread system. It was not too long ago that Temple Terrace leaders looked into seceding from the Hillsborough district to form their own city school system. (They backed down after conversations with Hillsborough leaders.) Over in Broward County, the city of Pembroke Pines has created its own charter district to serve its residents.

Every once in a while, state lawmakers have explored the idea of allowing the state's largest districts to separate. The concept didn't come up this past session, but it did in 2006 and 2007. Now comes the Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability with a report stating that the idea - though doable - poses complex legal, financial and educational challenges:

While research has not found that there is an optimum student population size for public school districts, several states including California, Hawaii, and Utah have made efforts to reorganize their large school districts. However, only Utah is currently pursuing school district division. If the Legislature were to pursue a policy allowing large Florida school districts to divide, constitutional and boundary issues would need to be resolved. In addition, several financial, legal, and other areas would need to be addressed, some of which may be particularly complex.

OPPAGA notes that splitting districts could lead to a reduction in educational services and an increase in overhead costs. Drawing new boundaries could create political controversy while also upsetting the state's finance system that balances the way education resources are allocated equally among poor, middle class and rich areas.

Issues such as who gets which schools, and how to maintain integrated school populations, also could come into play. Constitutional rights and responsibilities also would need amending.

Due to the potential educational, legal, and financial issues associated with subdivision, the Legislature may wish to establish a study panel of legislators, school district officials, education experts, and other stakeholders to develop recommendations on how best to proceed with subdividing the state’s large school districts.

So far there's been no action on this issue this year. But it could arise again. Just thought we'd share some of the potential problems that OPPAGA found, in case you or someone you know wants to press the matter.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:41am]


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