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Two Pasco legislators seek input from local educators on improving schools

LAND O'LAKES — Year after year, as Florida lawmakers meet, educators around the state complain of unfunded mandates that hamper their ability to do their job well.

State Rep. John Legg, a New Port Richey Republican, has asked for a list to get working on.

"I don't ever get anything," he lamented.

As chairman of the Florida House Pre-K-12 Policy Committee, Legg wants that list. So, too, does his Pasco delegation colleague Rep. Will Weatherford, chairman of the House Education Policy Council.

They plan to turn to Pasco County educators and parents to make one.

"We're going to take advantage of the people we have locally," said Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who's in line to become House speaker in 2012. "What I want to focus on is the low-hanging fruit, the things that everybody knows need to be fixed."

Things that might get bipartisan support.

The two lawmakers expect to tap Pasco School Board vice chairman Allen Altman to lead their information-gathering effort.

"I think (they) have a genuine desire to work with people who are on the ground, in the field … to learn what their frustrations are and how we can cooperate more on the local and state level," Altman said.

Such communication is critical, he said, if school districts are to succeed with shrinking resources.

"If we're going to challenge the local districts to try to be more effective in their programs and to spread their resources further and do more with less … then (lawmakers) need to look at what they are doing," Altman said, calling some of the Legislature's past practices "wasteful and ineffective."

He spoke generally of programs that legislators approve one year, then take away a year later after committee chairmen change. Although Altman didn't mention it specifically, some Pasco teachers have pointed to the state's recent weekly physical education requirements in elementary and middle schools — supported by Weatherford — as an example.

In the spring legislative session, Weatherford and Legg asked area educators for ideas how to cut back on unneeded mandates. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino provided a handful, such as postponing implementation of mandated virtual classes and changing the state's textbook adoption cycle.

Some, like the one on textbooks, found their way into the state education budget. Others, like the virtual school mandate, did not.

With fiscal 2010-11 looking dim again, the two legislators want to continue the effort and broaden the scope of advice. And they're in higher profile positions to make their proposals stick.

Weatherford said he did have some issues he expects to pursue, chief among them amending the 2002 class-size reduction amendment to make it more financially feasible. But he does not want to seed the upcoming conversations with his own views.

"This would be an opportunity for everyone else … to tell us what we should be doing," he said. "I don't want to start rattling things off, because those might not be things that they care about."

Weatherford and Legg plan to meet with the county's school principals and administrators for a roundtable discussion in early December. They'll bring Florida education commissioner Eric J. Smith along for the event.

They expect to convene the panel of teachers and parents in January.

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

Two Pasco legislators seek input from local educators on improving schools 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:46pm]
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