A weekend interview with state Rep. Bill Proctor, House Education committee chairman
As soon as Election Day passed, speculation ran rampant about how the new veto-proof GOP majority in the Florida Legislature would deal with some key education issues including teacher pay and contracts, and school funding. Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, has had his hand in education matters for years. He's served on the State Board of Education, is chancellor of Flagler College and has led higher education committees in the Legislature. This session, he'll oversee K-20 education in the House. Proctor spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about what he sees coming.
"I hate to tell you, I really don't know," Proctor said to kick off the conversation.
Much of the time since elections have been spent organizing leadership and training new members, he said. A one-day special session focused on overriding some vetoes, and not cementing policy positions, he said.
"At this point I think it is premature to speculate on what the policy priorities will be," Proctor said.
That didn't stop him from noting that there's been much talk about a revised Senate Bill 6, the measure that caused a rift between Gov. Charlie Crist and the Republican Party. Amid angry teacher complaints, Crist vetoed the bill that would have more closely tied teacher evaluations, pay and contract terms to student test results. Crist won't be back in the Governor's Mansion, but the lawmakers who pushed SB 6 won reelection.
"I have not seen it. It doesn't have a sponsor," said Proctor, who supported the measure. "If Senate Bill 6 emerges and if it is filed and it is referenced, it has to be dealt with."
He would not say whether the legislation, or any other, fit in with his goals for the year.
"I'm in a different position as committee chairman than if I were just a member filing bills," Proctor said. "I have to be sure the bills that are references to the committee are fairly heard. That's a different role than saying, 'This is what I want to do.'"
Regarding the budget, Proctor predicted continued revenue shortfalls -- "That's not a blinding revelation," he said -- but expected lawmakers to keep education at the front of the line for as much funding as possible.
"Just from looking at this year's budget, the priorities were human services, education and public safety," he said. "That's 72, almost getting to 80 percent of the budget. It's not my decision to make, but you can't change those priorities too much. ... You have to fund those."
Like many superintendents, Proctor had heard rumblings of a possible 1 percent budget cut for next year, which would compound the looming loss of federal stimulus funding known colloquially as the "funding cliff." He refused to get worked up about the early projections.
"I don't know how it plays out," he said. "I had House appropriations last year for higher education. At this time last year I couldn't begin to tell you what the budget would look like. ... We did better than we thought we would. Nobody was happy, but people were reasonably well satisfied." To speculate now about the spring budget would be "pure guesswork," Proctor said.
He apologized for being vague on our questions.
"I'd rather be candid with you than try to make predictions that I have no basis on," he said. "It's going to be difficult."
Proctor encouraged us to check back in late December or early January, when he expected to have more direction and information. We plan to do that. In the meantime, if you've got questions you'd like answered, start sending them our way.