LAND O'LAKES — Parents and teachers of children with special education needs had looked forward to Wednesday evening for quite some time.
It was their turn to talk to Pasco County state lawmakers about their issues and concerns. They had waited about a year, through two canceled sessions, to get there. And even then, just two of their representatives — Will Weatherford and John Legg — planned to attend.
Then they bowed out, too.
Both Legg and Weatherford said they had personal matters to attend to and wanted to reschedule again.
United School Employees of Pasco vice president Frank Roder, who helped organize the event, praised Weatherford and Legg as the only two members of the county delegation to listen to special education issues in the past. He called the continued delays of their forum unfortunate and potentially problematic, though.
"Some people are thinking the worst, that they don't want to meet with us," Roder said. "I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I do have my concerns."
Weatherford sought to allay them.
He noted that he spent two full days this week at forums, listening to the community about education and other issues. But something unexpected popped up, he said, making it impossible for him to attend Wednesday night's event.
"I have asked to reschedule it on a date before session," Weatherford said.
Legg said he alerted the school district about two weeks ago that he might not be able to attend because of family activities.
"I put in a disclaimer when they first set this up," he said. "I try to go every year. But the reality is, you can't be everywhere all the time."
He said it might be better to have group members visit his office to talk about the issues.
One of the group's concerns was that it had scheduled several parents to present their personal stories and discuss their needs from the Legislature. The district's more than 600 special education teachers also had been invited in a show of solidarity for a dedicated time to put forth these issues.
Some of the items that appeared on the agenda were:
• Special education funding — Students with special needs who receive McKay scholarships get more money to attend a private school than if they remain in public school.
• Teacher performance pay — It's not clear how to measure teacher effectiveness and student performance among learners with special needs.
Summer Romagnoli, a government affairs supervisor for the school district, said she would attend the meeting and relay the topics to the lawmakers. She stressed that the district leadership understands that the lawmakers have limited time available, particularly in this final week before committees begin meeting regularly in Tallahassee.
Overall, though, she said that Legg and Weatherford — both of whom chair key education committees in the state House — have proven to be "highly accessible" and have helped the district with regard to important matters for all children.
Roder agreed with that assessment, and suggested that perhaps in the future the special education group should look for other ways to meet with the lawmakers.
"We're going to have to come up with a new game plan," he said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.