Pasco school officials give House Speaker Pro Tem John Legg an earful on education
With Florida's legislative session just a week off, House Speaker Pro Tem John Legg of New Port Richey decided to spend an hour Tuesday morning talking education issues with the Pasco School Board.
Board members and superintendent Heather Fiorentino thanked him for being there, then let him know exactly how they felt about many issues moving through the Legislature. They referred to a spreadsheet of bills the staff distributed, where things they oppose were marked in red.
"There's a lot of red," chairwoman Joanne Hurley observed.
Among the concerns raised:
- The Legislature has proposed no added funding for "teacher quality" bills.
- Class-size limits hurt high school graduates who move to large universities where classes are much bigger.
- Proposals for performance pay might limit teacher willingness to allow teaching interns into their classrooms.
Perhaps the board's biggest concern tied into Legg's top priority, that of budgeting. Board vice chairman Allen Altman put it this way: The Florida Constitution requires that class sizes be limited. Federal laws mandate certain busing, cafeteria meals and the like. The state Legislature sends "page after page after page of requirements."
"Yet somebody else controls our revenue," Altman said, stressing that the Legislature sets district tax rates and state funding levels. "It's like requiring me to get to the moon. I don't have the ability to get to the moon. Somebody else is going to have to help me get there."
Legg said he empathized with the complaints of too many mandates, saying he does not necessarily agree with rules such as the state's 150-minute weekly physical education requirement. "I will work hard not to throw stuff at you because you don't want to take your eye off the ball that really matters," he said.
Board members asked him to encourage his colleagues in Tallahassee to do the same. Legg said he would try. He told the board that one thing the Legislature is planning to do is set aside $1 billion in the budget to avoid mid-year cuts if the economy continues to swoon. He also said lawmakers plan to work on Medicaid reforms, because that's the piece of the budget that is sucking up money the fastest.
Legg also pledged to make himself available to district representatives to discuss issues as they move forward.