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Chiles gets an earful on crowding

At a broadcast meeting Wednesday night in which Gov. Lawton Chiles was stumping for billions of dollars for education, he heard how some school cafeterias are so crowded that students have to start eating lunch in the morning.

The Florida PTA and Chiles heard complaints from parents, teachers and principals.

The governor and PTA president Sandy Traeger fielded questions in Tallahassee from people watching in 13 schools around Florida.

Chiles wants the public to put pressure on legislators who are opposed to spending an additional $3.3-billion on new schools.

The Democratic governor has scheduled the Republican-led Legislature to convene in a weeklong special session beginning Monday to address school crowding. The satellite broadcast began at 7 p.m. Wednesday, running about 10 minutes longer than the 30 minutes scheduled.

One of the schools that participated in viewing the meeting was Dade County's Holmes Braddock High School, which was built for 3,200 pupils, but has 5,023.

"My daughter has lunch at 10:30 in the morning," said Manny Fernandez, a Postal Service worker whose 15-year-old daughter attends the school. "When is money going to be allocated to our school? We are hurting for another high school."

The high school has 40 portable classrooms, trailerlike structures that can be seen outside many schools across the state.

The 50 people attending the meeting wore buttons proclaiming "Build Schools Now" and "End Classroom Crunch."

The governor appealed to parents and teachers to put pressure on legislators to approve $3.3-billion to spend on schools by sending e-mail and faxes to lawmakers and by calling them on the phone.

Last week, the governor's Commission on Education concluded that Florida needs $9.4-billion over the next five years to build and maintain schools.

But the state expects to raise just $6.1-billion through existing taxes: property taxes at the local level and a tax on utility bills at the state level.

The commission, a 63-member advisory board, has recommended that lawmakers boost state spending on new schools by $150-million a year and let districts levy a half-cent sales tax without voter approval.

Chiles has backed the commission's recommendation, which includes a "buy back" of lottery dollars with general revenue money. The $150-million in lottery money would then be bonded to raise $1.8-billion over five years.