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Self-serving superintendents

Published Aug. 16, 1995|Updated Oct. 4, 2005

In his 1949 book, Southern Politics in State and Nation, V. O. Key Jr. titled one chapter "Florida: Every Man For Himself." If he were writing about Florida today and devoted a chapter to the state's district school superintendents, Key could give this new chapter the same title.

Indeed, each of the 45 elected superintendents in the Florida Association of District School Superintendents is unfairly siphoning off taxpayers' dollars for their benefit at a time when school budgets are straining under the daily influx of new students. The state's 22 other superintendents are appointed.

At issue is the $1-million fund the Department of Education has earmaked for training programs that can help these top elected officials fatten their incomes by as much as $7,500. The 22 appointed superintendents, who are professionals, are not eligible for the bonus.

Along with receiving training funds from the DOE, the superintendents get another $500,000 from local school districts to underwrite membership dues. Although the local funds are voluntary, the fact is that the superintendents get free dues, another unnecessary perk.

The logic behind the training seminar is this: Over the years, most elected superintendents did not have graduate degrees _ or experience _ in education and administration and needed special training to bring them up to speed.

Hardly anyone discounts the need to train people. But why pay additional tax money to prepare elected officials to perform duties for which they already receive generous salaries?

Most recently, FADSS members participated in a two-day seminar that will cost taxpayers $400,000, after all evaluations are completed. One weeklong training junket took top brass to beautiful North Carolina. Paying superintendents bonuses for on-the-job training is legal under Florida statutes, but the practice is professionally unseemly and could qualify as a conflict of interest.

Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said that superintendents should be given time off for seminar training. But they don't need salary increases. "We think that training is wise," Calabro said. "It's a small investment. The point is why double dip? Getting the necessary training is already part of what they are paid to do. I've discovered that if you have unqualified people, you need to spend a lot of money on training."

Calabro is correct. And we see yet another conflict. The FADSS classifies itself as a non-profit, private association. It receives 100 percent of its funding from Florida tax dollars. Here is the rub: Last year, FADSS spent $25,000 of its budget _ public tax money _ to lobby state lawmakers for even more tax money. Clearly, an agency that is supported totally by tax money is not a private organization. It is, for all intents and purposes, a quasi-government entity that should not lobby another government agency for more tax dollars.

What makes this whole affair galling is that, while lawmakers wink at the superintendents' double-dipping and the FADSS' lobbying, they have been slashing funds for the Summer Inservice Institute that provides continuing education for classroom teachers.

The institute is the only way for teachers to get valuable training without paying out of their own pockets, without studying at night, without studying on weekends.

Unlike the elected superintendents, teachers receive no salary increase, only an hourly stipend for the 30 or so hours they are in training. Oh, yes, and they get to keep the books and materials they are issued.

Further, they are required to share their experiences with colleagues who were unable to attend the institute that always has far fewer openings than applicants. As such, competition for the slots is fierce, and priority is given to teachers in programs, such as English as Second Language, Blueprint 2000 and multiculturalism, mandated by the government. This summer, for example, Pinellas teachers requested $487,864 in state funds for their summer institute. They settled for $278,608, a large part coming from local sources.

The continuing education of teachers is just as important as that of superintendents. Teachers are the very backbone of the public school system, and they should be supported in every way possible, especially financially. Commissioner of Education Frank Brogan, who ran on a promise to cut spending, is boasting that he has eliminated or will eliminate 350 jobs at DOE, for a savings of $10-million.

Fine. Let taxpayers see some of that money allocated for teacher inservice training. Let taxpayers see some of that money go toward salary increases for teachers. Let taxpayers see Brogan, a former district superintendent, spend less time rationalizing FADSS' "every man for himself" ethos and spend more time listening to the state's classroom teachers who, more often than not, perform beyond the call of duty.

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