Pasco School Board member gets governor's ear in New York

Allen Altman stood in line outside the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, waiting for a friend to come get him for a tour of the action on the trading floor.

Two long, black, official-looking cars pulled up. About a dozen people in suits jumped out and slipped into the building ahead of the crowd. Altman thought little of it — until he ran into the group again inside, where Altman was on hand to learn about the intricacies of municipal bond deals.

"I was on tour and there was Gov. Scott, six, eight feet away," talking to a group, Altman recalled Thursday. "When he finished, I said, 'Gov. Scott.' He turned around and looked at me and held out his hand."

After brief introductions, "one thing led to another, and we started chatting about education and education funding."

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed cutting per student funding by 10 percent, on top of other budget cuts to public schools. His recommendations would worsen Pasco's already dire projected operating fund shortfall from $46 million to closer to $60 million.

"I just asked him to be cognizant of all the state mandates by constitution and law that we are required as a school board to implement, and that we have virtually no control over our revenue," said Altman, vice chairman of the Pasco County School Board, echoing statements he made on Tuesday to House Speaker Pro Tem John Legg of Port Richey.

He said Scott responded by saying school districts had done a poor job of providing information about how they spend their money. Altman answered that, with all due respect, the details are available through audits and annual cost reports.

"He handed me his card and said, 'I would like to have that,' " Altman said.

Altman promised to collect documents and deliver them to Tallahassee.

Then Scott talked about school boards, Altman said. The governor suggested some districts are unwilling to accept change.

Again, Altman expressed frustration with unfunded mandates coming from the state and federal levels, followed by finger-pointing at local officials who get the blame for a perceived desire to cling to the status quo.

"He said, 'If it is something at the state level and you make me aware of it, I will look into it,' " said Altman, who agreed to bring these details to the Governor's Office, too.

Altman wouldn't say whether he felt as if he were being glad-handed or taken seriously. Neither would he predict whether the face-to-face encounter will yield any positive results.

"That will remain to be seen," he said. "I was appreciative of the fact that he was open and seemed willing to look at the concerns we had at the local level and review the information. . . . We will make sure we make good on our end of the bargain."

No one from Scott's office returned calls seeking comment.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco School Board member gets governor's ear in New York 03/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 12:58am]

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