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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Should Florida school districts have more flexibility to raise property taxes?



This year, the Pinellas County School Board raised $15 million for the district when a supermajority voted to increase property tax rates by a quarter of a mill. If it wants to do that again, though, it'll have to put the proposed increase before voters.

That is, unless the Legislature changes the rules.

In a draft of its annual legislative agenda, the board is asking the Legislature to do just that. Allow school boards to levy the additional quarter mill without going to a voter referendum, the draft says -- and with a simply majority vote as opposed to the supermajority required this year.


The board is scheduled to discuss the draft at tomorrow's workshop, along with the draft legislative program from the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards (which counts Pinellas as a member).

Lots of debate fodder in both draft programs, which we've included below. The Pinellas one is first ...





Constitution of the State of Florida, Article IX - - Section I.


“The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is therefore a paramount duty of the State to make adequate provision for the education of all the children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education….”






RATIONALE: School districts need additional funds just to maintain current levels of service. The School Board has adopted a goal of increasing teacher salaries to the national average and the state legislature should build a budget that allows that to happen. Increased teacher salaries, as well as an adjustment for the increased cost of health insurance, would be one part of a plan to recruit and retain the highest quality teachers. Because of a lack of state funding, the Pinellas County School Board has been unable to provide pay increases for any employee groups in the past three years.


Funding for excellence is essential for a successful public school system. Stable funding should be appropriated with few restrictions, with high expectations, and with strong accountability measures in order to meet the individual needs of students on the local level.


A. Funding: The May 2007- 08 state appropriation per student for Pinellas County Schools was $7,396.09; the May 2010-11 per student appropriation is $6,976.69.  That is a decrease of $419.40 per student in two years, which takes into account mid-year cuts.

The loss in dollars per classroom is as follows:

• $7,549.20 in an eighteen student classroom.

• $9,226.80 in a twenty-two student classroom.

• $10,485.50 in a twenty-five student classroom.


The 2011 legislative goal should be to restore per student funding to the May 2007 appropriation level.


B. Class Size Issues:

 • Provide operating and capital outlay funding to allow districts to continue to decrease class size as required by Florida’s current class size constitutional amendment.

 • Provide as much statutory flexibility as possible relating to implementation of the class size mandate.

• Eliminate statutory penalties for non-compliance until adequate and mandated State funding is provided to fully implement the constitutional requirements.


C.  Quarter Mill Option:  Allow school boards to levy the additional quarter mill without a referendum and by a simple majority vote.


D. Student Transportation Funding/ Student Transportation Fuel Cost Adjustment: Fully fund the student transportation mandate. Currently the state provides only about 50% statewide of the funding needed, forcing the remainder of the funds to be taken from other funding sources. Pinellas receives only about 41% of the cost of its student transportation program. An inflationary adjustment should also be made for the unanticipated increase in fuel costs which has greatly increased student transportation expenditures in all districts.


E.  The Florida Retirement System (FRS): Maintain the structure and integrity of the current retirement system.  No major changes to the system should be implemented without a thorough and independent review of the current system, and the impact of any changes on all members of the FRS.


F. Increase the Health Insurance Subsidy for Retirees: The Health Insurance Subsidy provides $5 dollars per month, up to a maximum of $150 per month, for each year of service for retirees in the Florida Retirement System.  The Florida Legislature should maintain this subsidy as a recruitment and retention issue for Florida’s educational employees. An employee retiring from the Pinellas County School System will pay a minimum of $6,600 per year to continue participating in the district’s health insurance program. To continue family coverage would cost a minimum of $16,000 per year.


G. Prioritize Workforce Education and Secondary Career Technical Funding Issues:


Middle and High School Career Technical Funding: The 2004 Legislature removed FTE weights for middle school programs, funding them at the same level as regular academic courses, severely hampering efforts to maintain career education programs in grades 6-8. We recommend the restoration of weighted career technical funding in middle schools.


High school career technical programs face escalating program costs in the face of declining FTE weights. Support increasing FTE weights to maintain industry standards in high school career technical programs, to adequately support program quality and growth, and to add appropriate industry certifications. Restore SUCCEED Florida grants to fund the development and operation of new Career Academies in high schools.


Weighted FTE to support Career and Professional Education (CAPE) programs authorized in 2007 by SB1232 was originally recommended to be funded at $30M. The program was funded at $15M in 2008, and 2009. With the inclusion of some CAPE certifications in the new school grade formula the demand for certifications will increase thereby effectively reducing the value of the weighted FTE. We recommend a $30M allocation to the weighted FTE funding authorized by SB1232 in support of CAPE programs and appropriate industry certifications.


 Workforce Education Funding: Increase workforce education funding to meet increasing program needs, new program development and inflationary program costs, and to meet the intent of the 1997 legislation. These dollars are needed to provide employment training and adult literacy for students in areas of proven local and state need. The funding increase should include a ten percent increase in tuition at career centers to cover increasing program costs. Also legislation should allow career centers to be designated as Technical Colleges.


Career and Professional Education (CAPE):


Change the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards to allow CAPE (career and professional education) Academies the flexibility to implement applied math and science courses. 


CAPE Academies are relevant and rigorous high school programs that keep students engaged, direct students to degrees and jobs that are in demand and have demonstrated success with raising student performance.




Math and science are more often than not the areas where students seek relevance and also have their greatest struggles.  There is a concern with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards that it will lead to more student failure.  The research indicates relevance in the classroom will counter much of the struggle students have and by utilizing CAPE Academies if taught as a pre-requisite for a successful future we will actually increase post- secondary education enrollment.  More importantly if math and science are taught through applied methods through CAPE Academies, students will be exposed to course work leading to college majors that are in demand. CAPE Academies tend to target career paths that are in demand and incorporate dual enrollment opportunities, AP course works, industry certifications, and internship opportunities for students. Data from the Florida Department of Education shows

students who receive industry certification through a CAPE Academy entered college in 2008 at a rate of 70.2% compared to 67.2% for non-CAPE Academy students.


In October 2007, OPPAGA released a study that stated, “Florida students who are in career academies are showing increased attendance rates, higher scores on FCAT math and reading, increased graduation rates, increased college entrance rates and are earning higher wages than their counterparts who are not   part of a career academy”.


If end of course exams provide the flexibility to adopt the new math and science assessments to career education programs,  the research would suggest a higher level of success for students and fewer dropouts


H. Universal Prekindergarten: Support a change to a fully implemented school year Voluntary Prekindergarten Program for up to a six hour day for 180 days and a summer program consisting of up to 210 hours funded on an FTE basis. Program accountability shall include a pre/post assessment.


K. School District Matching Grants Program: Increase the funding for this existing program. This program provides challenge grants to the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations (the Pinellas Education Foundation is a member) for programs that serve low-performing students, literacy initiatives and career education.


L. Crucial School Health Clinic Staffing: Provide additional funding to the State Department of Health to increase the number of both Registered Nurses and trained Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) staffed into schools. The goal is to achieve a professional nursing ratio of 1 Registered Nurse: 1,500 students (The National Association of School Nursing and the Centers for Disease Control both recommend 1:750) and a minimum of daily coverage by a Certified Nurse Assistant in all school clinics. Financial impact for Pinellas would require a $500,000 increase each year for five years to reach the goal.


M. Millage Referendum for Operations: Authorize school boards to levy operating millage by referendum for up to ten years to renew a four year referendum. Currently the maximum is only four years. The initial referendum would remain at up to four years. The ten year option would follow the same time frame as “Penny for Pinellas” funds and would allow for long term planning for local priorities



II. PRIVATIZATION and ACCOUNTABILITY A. Accountability for Privatized Scholarship Programs: The legislature should mandate that private schools receiving public scholarship funds:

 • Fully participate in Florida's accountability system;

 • Use certified teachers.


Rationale: Florida’s privatization programs should be held to the high standards of accountability that are applied to public schools.




 A. Statutory Changes: Local flexibility should be maximized when adopting changes in Florida Statutes.


 B. Student Calendar: The Legislature should restore school board authority to adopt a student calendar that meets the needs of each individual district.




And here is the draft program from the Great Florida Consortium of School Boards:



Constitution of the State of Florida, Article IX - - Section I.

“The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida.  It is therefore a paramount duty of the State to make adequate provision for the education of all the children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education….”




In order to accomplish this goal:

Allocate sufficient state dollars with flexibility to enable school districts to support: guaranteed continuation budgets that provide for enrollment changes, inflationary increases, competitive salaries and benefits for teachers and other personnel, and quality program improvements. Use state revenue to provide for this continuation budget as opposed to the state using increases in local property tax revenues as the source of additional funds. 

• Conduct an impartial third-party study of the Florida Price Level Index to reflect the cost of housing, insurance, and transportation costs rather than wages.

• Guarantee, at least, the same dollars per FTE in total potential funds appropriated for FY 2006-07 adjusted for the three-year average of inflation, as this was the benchmark for eligibility for receipt of federal stimulus funds.

• Increase funding for Safe Schools, Transportation, Instructional Materials, and Supplemental Academic Instruction to accommodate higher enrollment and higher costs, and maintain these programs as categoricals with maximum flexibility.

• Uphold the 90 percent rule in the FEFP and fund state mandates for transportation and instructional materials entirely from state revenue and do not include this funding when calculating the 90 percent rule.

• Restore the program weights for Exceptional Student Education (ESE), English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and all secondary (middle and high school) career education programs to pre-2001 levels.

Stable Funding for Public Education

• Establish a financially stable and expanding source of state revenue for Prek-12 that includes plans to replace the phase-out of America’s Recovery and Reinvestment State Stabilization Funds and funds public schools to at least the 2006-07 level adjusted for the three-year average of inflation.

• Identify alternative revenue sources, including efforts to enforce the existing state sales tax on all internet sales made in Florida and study a phase-out of exemptions on non-essential goods.

Local Discretionary Millage (LDM)

• Oppose further equalization of the LDM until the basic education program is funded to the 2006-07 level adjusted for the three-year average of inflation.

• Extend the voter-approved operating millage authority from four (4) years to ten (10) years and allow for voter approval of the half-cent sales tax for operational as well as capital construction purposes.


• Reinstate the funding for 251, 252, 253, and gifted students on a per student basis.

• Hold funding in abeyance for the School Recognition Program.

• Reject any new unfunded mandates or new programs.
• Give school boards local options by January 2011 to develop programs for increased instructional time (i.e., longer school day, week or year) supported by corresponding additional state funds for full implementation by the 2013-14 school year.

• Preserve Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs and other advanced academic programs.

• Return the rate of local tax roll collections from 96 percent to 95 percent for FEFP calculation purposes.


Establish permanent provisions to assist school districts with hurricane damage without negatively affecting resources for other districts including:

• providing an avenue for school boards to seek necessary waivers of state law for up to a year, such as shortening the school year, in order to resolve some of the immediate impact of hurricane damage;

• funding all operational costs associated with shelter operations; and,

• including shelters in concurrency requirements.


• Fully fund the class size constitutional mandate and distribute all funds on a per student basis and eliminate all monetary penalties.

• Give traditional public schools the same exemptions provided charter schools.


Voucher Programs

Oppose any further expansion of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program or any other new voucher programs.

Charter Schools

• Restore school boards’ final authority for the governance of charter schools within each district.

• Maintain school boards’ authority regarding the disposition of local capital outlay funds and impact fees; and authorize school boards to collect administrative fees for all students served by the charter school.

Expenditure Requirements

Oppose any legislation that dictates a specific percentage of a district’s operating budget that must be allocated to “direct classroom instruction.”

Waiver of Statutes

Provide the authority for the Governor to waive statutes, except for those dealing with life safety issues, upon request of the school board for up to three years.

Articulation Programs and Agreements

• Allow local or regional determination in the operation of post-secondary and adult education articulation programs.

• Provide for statewide articulation agreements for school districts, community and state colleges and universities so that dual enrollment credit will transfer to and among all state higher education institutions.


School Construction

Provide adequate school construction funds to support:  new facilities, renovations, replacement schools, school maintenance, land acquisition, mandated class size reduction, hurricane shelter retrofitting, pre-kindergarten programs housed in public schools, and the additional costs of constructing environmentally efficient “green” schools.

Optional Capital Outlay Levy (2.0 mills)

Restore the full optional 2.0 mill levy for capital purposes and reject any further reduction and continue the flexibility to use this revenue to pay property and casualty insurance premiums; to purchase equipment to implement on-line testing; and, to purchase software required to run equipment purchased with capital funding.
Impact Fees

• Define school boards as “infrastructure”-- not “developers.”

• Maintain fees and reinstate local capital outlay funding for the purposes that they were collected.


Allow, but do not require, local governments and school boards to include the capacity of temporary relocatable facilities in the level of service calculation.

Critical Needs .25 Mill Levy

Allow the critical needs .25 mill levy without a referendum.

Student Station Costs

Revise the per-student-station cost cap to keep pace with changing market place increases for labor and materials.


• Impose a deadline for local property appraisers to certify final valuation of the roll by June 30th of each year.

• Increase the fees paid by appellants of property tax assessments to cover the cost of the Value Adjustment Board operations, particularly legal fees mandated by the 2008 Florida Legislature.


• Establish and fund better systems to develop, implement and audit valid and reliable state tests and expedite the scanning and scoring to provide better, more reliable student data. 

• Develop and fund the teacher/administrator evaluation and performance pay system and provide maximum local flexibility for local collaboration and negotiations for the implementation.

• Provide that end-of-course exams should not be the determining factor in receiving credit; should not exceed 30 percent of a student’s total grade; and, students should be allowed to retake the exams.

• Do not count FCAT scores for English Language Learners for at least two years after enrollment.  


Virtual Education

Allow virtual education reporting of FTE in all reporting periods for total 12-month FTE limit of 1.0 and open virtual enrollment to any Florida student entering kindergarten.

Student Safety

Prohibit reading, writing or sending text messages on an electronic device while operating a motor vehicle in a school zone.





[Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 1:08pm]


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