Friday, December 15, 2017
Education

John Romano: Time to correct the voters' mistake

Let's talk about the time Florida voters screwed up.

It was done with the best of intentions, and with the blessing of editorial boards and voter education groups. But it was a blunder, nonetheless.

This was back in 1998 when voters passed a constitutional amendment giving the governor more power by shrinking the size and scope of the state's Cabinet.

It made sense at the time. And much of the idea still has appeal. Instead of Florida being run by a virtual board of directors, the governor is responsible for calling the shots.

Unfortunately, one ramification of that amendment was seriously misunderstood.

The education commissioner went from an elected position in the Cabinet to an appointed job. The theory was that the commissioner would become less of a politician and more of an educator. The reality is the position became more partisan than ever.

Now, instead of answering to voters every four years, the education commissioner serves at the whim of the governor's hand-picked Board of Education.

In other words, this is why education leaders no longer listen to you.

"It's sad. We've really lost a lot of leverage,'' said Betty Castor, who was elected education commissioner for two terms from 1986-1994. "It was supposed to remove politics from the position, but what it did was remove advocacy. It removed public input.

"There's a kind of helplessness for parents about what to do and who to turn to.''

This is why you should pay attention to legislation proposed last week by state Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. Mayfield wants to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016 that would, once again, make the education commissioner an elected position that would fall under the umbrella of the Cabinet.

This isn't the first time the idea has come up. Most recently, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, pushed for it unsuccessfully in 2012. The Senate did approve a similar measure in 2008, but it was never even considered by then-House Speaker Marco Rubio.

So why is Tallahassee so reluctant to give voters a say?

Well, it could be because Jeb Bush still wields a lot of power on educational policies, and he doesn't want voters reclaiming a role in the process.

Following the '98 amendment that weakened the Cabinet, Bush stacked the first Board of Education with people who followed his mantra of vouchers, charter schools, high-stakes testing and school grades. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott later endorsed the same reforms by appointing Bush staffers and cheerleaders to the Board of Education.

"Commissioners answer to the Board of Education, and they don't have to answer to voters,'' said Mayfield. "It really has become too political. It's all about political favors and political payback.''

Mayfield said she has heard from far too many parents unhappy about high-stakes testing and Common Core reforms. Based on polling, she said an amendment would have no problem reaching the 60 percent threshold needed to change the Constitution.

Getting it approved by her colleagues in the House will not be nearly as easy.

Kind of odd, don't you think?

Our lawmakers talk obsessively about accountability in schools, and yet they allow the state's education commissioner to be a mere puppet forever dancing on the governor's strings.

Comments
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Caitlin Gille grew up in a union household in Wisconsin, where her mom was a long-time teacher in the small city of Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee.She was accustomed to seeing educators advocating for their working conditions and pay, having a sea...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

SPRING HILL — As she perused the book, something about Night of the Living Worms piqued sixth-grader Inessia Richardson’s interest. So she decided to take it home from the Fox Chapel Middle School library.The opportunity to look at Night of the Livin...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/14/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17