TAMPA — Gathered to discuss school funding, Florida's Board of Education spent much of Tuesday listening to complaints.
Superintendents and teachers' leaders lamented unfunded mandates from the Legislature. A charter school operator implored the board to treat charters as partners. A champion of state-funded preschools asked for better accountability. And there was concern about work conditions.
"Morale is at an all-time low in our districts," said Lee Swift, chairman of the Charlotte County School Board.
Earlier, Hillsborough County superintendent MaryEllen Elia said, "We all know that money will not necessarily improve education. We also know you have to have resources to meet the needs of every student."
Board members looked to Elia and others for ideas to increase efficiencies. They heard several, including cutting the amount of unused sick leave employees get paid at retirement, renegotiating contracts and expanding virtual school.
Within the discussion came pointed questions that might lay the groundwork for debate in the 2012 legislative session.
Board member Gary Chartrand asked if the state should again consider class sizes.
Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan asked if the state should fund education based on course completion rather than enrollment. She raised questions about tenure for community college professors. And she suggested philanthropic organizations might underwrite some programs for at-risk students.
The emphasis on money is necessary, officials said. Legislative actions closed a mounting deficit this year, said Amy Baker, the state's chief economist. But the economy isn't expected to improve much until 2013.
Charter school proponents said their model goes a long way in containing costs. "Everybody within the charter world knows money matters," said Jon Hage, president of Charter Schools USA. "Competition works."
But Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, decried the current climate for teachers: "The idea that you can improve our schools by cutting and consolidating and cracking the whip is a fantasy that is shortchanging our children."