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Look not to Florida's Capitol for schools' salvation

Editor's note: As detailed by Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek, Mitchell High school student Justice Greene e-mailed Gov. Rick Scott about the importance of funding arts education. The following is a satire on the response from the governor's staff that said "because this is a local government matter, the governor's ability to assist is limited.''

Ms. Justice Greene

Mitchell High School

Class of 2013

New Port Richey, FL 34655

Dear Ms. Greene:

Thank you for taking the time to contact Gov. Rick Scott. He would have answered you personally, but, as I'm sure you are aware, he headed north for several days in Canada once the temperatures hit 90 degrees. Something about creating jobs.

Anyway, your passion toward the arts is commendable. Unfortunately, more times than not, a career in the arts won't pay the bills. Let's get to work doesn't mean let's get to work as street performers.

If you want music, drama and fine arts as part of your curriculum, you need to contact your local superintendent and school board. These are local decisions. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that these things are cooked up in Tallahassee. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are some of the other local decisions of which you many not be aware:

Mandatory daily physical activity requirements in elementary school.

Mandatory civics lessons in middle school.

Mandatory use of federal stimulus dollars to plug the state budget in 2009-10. Ditto for 2010-11.

(This stuff predates Gov. Scott, by the way, but clearly you see the pattern about how important local control is to the eduction process.)

Mandatory property tax rate set by legislators.

Mandatory projection in Tallahassee that the Hernando County property tax roll would increase this year. That the local property appraiser provided a good-faith estimate of an 8 percent reduction — possibly climbing to 10 percent if all these appeals go in favor of big business — just shows why all these decisions need to be made in the capital. I mean if we used actual data from Alvin Mazourek's office, we'd have to raise the tax rate. God forbid!

Mandatory reductions in education funding. In Pasco, the district receives $540 less per student than it did four years ago. In Hernando, funding dropped almost $503 per student, or 7.6 percent, for the coming school year. The amount of money coming funding from Tallahassee is now at the level it was nine years ago.

Mandatory elimination of tenure for all newly hired teachers.

Mandatory reduction in personal income for teachers because they and other public servants will now contribute 3 percent of their salary for their pension.

Another mandatory reduction in personal income for teachers because districts are scrapping to make ends meet and will ask educators to forfeit three or four days of pay via furloughs or lost holiday wages.

Mandatory change in teacher evaluations. The same goes for principals.

Mandatory prohibition of collecting union dues directly from teacher paychecks. Oh, never mind. Those weak-kneed legislators refused to go along with this local decision.

Mandatory tens of millions of dollars' worth of budget gaps for local school districts.

Justice, you may not know this, but Hernando instructed each school to cut its budget 10 percent and the result is a reduction in special education teachers, assistant principals and driver's education. Now, the School Board is talking about charging to play sports and participate in other activities, eliminating courtesy bus rides, and forgoing previously negotiated rases and cutting salaries to make ends meet. Pasco's school district eliminated more than 500 jobs and still has to negotiate salary cuts via furloughs. Both districts also are exhausting federal Edujobs money in the coming year so even more cuts are on the horizon in 2012.

So, you see, Justice, — your name is so ironic because there is no justice in all this, is there? — the local school boards and the local superintendents really are in charge of education spending.

It's not up to us what classes get offered. If you want to excel in the performing arts and use your acting skills to make people weep or laugh, then by all means do it. May I suggest your next performance (Pinocchio?) be in front of the School Board because, honestly, that's where all the decisions are made. Really, it's mandatory.


Governor's Office of Blame-Shifting and Accountability Ducking

Look not to Florida's Capitol for schools' salvation 06/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 9:45pm]
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