Pinellas County School Board Chairwoman Carol Cook on Thursday blamed the Florida Legislature for many of the current financial challenges schools face.
Between funding cuts, state-mandated class sizes and sunsetting sources of revenue, Cook told those at Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon Thursday, the Legislature hasn't met its constitutional requirement to adequately fund public schools.
The Pinellas district is grappling with a $60 million budget shortfall that could cost as many as 400 jobs in 2011-12, although it is still unclear how many employees may be laid off. And exactly how big the cuts will be won't be known until lawmakers pass a budget in the coming weeks.
After her speech, Cook was asked what the district is doing to address the disparity between African-American and white students.
An April 17 St. Petersburg Times story showed that Pinellas' black students are dropping further and further behind black peers statewide in math and reading at every grade level, based on FCAT scores.
Cook, who has been on the board since 2000, said the district needed to analyze the data more closely: "We have to figure out: Is there a trend going on? What is happening? Is this an anomaly?"
Cook also wondered if problems with the FCAT scoring last year might have affected Pinellas' scores. And she said superintendent Julie Janssen is considering hiring a specialist to examine the district's data. "We need to look at what kinds of programs we're offering," she said. "And look at what we're doing in Pinellas County that is different than in other counties."
"That achievement gap is very important to us," she continued, "And not only do we want our minority scores to be high, we want our high achieving students to also improve … It is a matter of keeping them both challenged."
In her speech, Cook highlighted some school and student achievements including: 40 Pinellas students named National Merit semifinalists; the award-winning robotics team at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs and Jamerson Elementary in St. Petersburg, named a school of distinction by the Magnet Schools of America.