A weekend interview with ...
... Florida School Boards Association executive director Wayne Blanton. The FSBA has been knee-deep in some of the biggest education controversies of the past week - charter school exclusive authority and property tax reform. Blanton spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the two topics.
The board now has allowed three districts to have exclusivity, and the rest it has denied. Where does that put the school districts in terms of fighting the issue? Or is the fight not going to happen?
The fight is going to happen. I think it's just a matter of some districts making up their mind about how we want to pursue this. As you remember, we had pending litigation that we withdrew about six months ago based on the judge having some conversation with us that at that time there was no damages, there was nothing you could go to court and prove other than just test the constitutional language. I've had enough phone calls to know that there's going to be some type of action involving local school districts and the state board. I think first of all there's going to have to be some appeals process that the districts are going to have to go through, because obviously if you go to court you've got to have exhausted all your appeals. But I can virtually assure you there's going to be some type of legal action coming from a district or a number of districts.
Which districts are showing the greatest signs of discomfort right now?
Well, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Volusia aren't real happy. Let's start with that. I don't want to speak for them. None of them have voted to do anything. I want to be clear on that. But, in conversation with some of their representatives, they obviously are not very happy with the results. I don't know where they're going yet. I think they have to have their discussions locally. And then at some point we will bring people together and see what's going to happen.
What's the big gripe?
Well, it's Article IX. I think it's constitutional issues is what it boils down to, really. Article IX says local school boards have the authority to operate, control and supervise all public schools within their district. It's very clear language in the constitution. And now that authority appears to have been taken away from them in the fact that charter schools are public schools. I think it's going to boil down to a constitutional clarification issue.
What about some of the schools that are operated by the state, like the school for the deaf and so forth? How do they get around the issue of being operated by the local school districts?
The School for the Deaf and the Blind is a statutorily separate school. And it has its own board of trustees. Historically, I can't answer this. I've been here 32 years, and the School for the Deaf and the Blind has always been a separate entity. ... Remember the charter schools at this time are not funded separately. If they go off, if the Legislature says they're going to fund each one of them separately, then that becomes a different issue.
What is your expectation on this other controversial issue, the property tax?
I'm not quite sure what it is. You know, when you look at what's being thrown out there as of (Wednesday), they're treating a constitutional amendment like a glitch bill. You know, putting something in, taking something out, putting something in, taking something out, just to see what they can pass. I think they've got to settle down and remember this is a major constitutional amendment that you can't just put things in and out of overnight.
The second thing is, if you look at at least the House numbers they put out (Wednesday), they cost the public schools in revenue impact $560-million next year. ... You take that and then the past series of cuts we just had, and that takes public schools into next session ... at about $850-million less than we have right now. Obviously, that's going to cause a real problem in K-12.
How does that jibe with what the State Board approved as their proposed budget for next year, which showed an increase at least on the operating side of over $1-billion?
That's going to be tough to match right now. Remember, I don't know if that State Board budget was based on this constitutional amendment passing or not. I'd have to look at that. I think theirs had a 2.3 percent increase overall. That's probably fairly realistic if this constitutional amendment does not pass. If this constitutional amendment were to pass, I think we're all back at the drawing board.
So what exactly does "hold harmless" mean?
(Laughs) Well, I always think it means no less than what you got the year before. Of course this year, we got 6.5 percent, then they cut us 1.4 percent. So you could either say it was 6.5 or 5.1 this year. I think it's at least 6.5 percent for next year. I'm beginning to wonder what "hold harmless" means myself, because it seems to be more and more definitions floating around about it. But that's a good question. I've asked some legislators that, what does it mean? They said, 'Well, we'll tell you at the end of '08.' (Laughs again) I said, 'Oh yeah. We'll tell you what our reaction is to that.'