Tallahassee Opening Legislative Session March 2009

I arrived in Tallahassee on Monday, March 2, 2009 and attended the Legislative Reception as a guest of Lisa McFadden, President and CEO of Volunteer USA Foundation. It was an awesome event with over 1000 people in attendance. Many legislators and their aides attended along with a multitude of individuals from businesses, colleges, universities and government. Although I was able to introduce myself to some of the legislators and other people, the event was mainly a social event and not the best setting for trying to conduct business. I did however exchange cards with some of those I socialized with. I also called IVBE Board Member Marguerite Cavanaugh’s friend Carol Griffin. We had a nice chat but I was not able to meet with her.

Tuesday, March 3rd and Wednesday March 4th were my most productive days. Tuesday morning began with a visit to my state representative and his staff. They went out of their way to assist me and arranged for my introductory letter, the 2009 IVBE Legislative Priorities and my IVBE business card to be distributed to all 160 Legislators (120 in the House and 40 in the Senate). I also met with Christian Camera of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Dr. Stan Marshall and Bob Sanchez of the James Madison Institute. I devoted most of Tuesday to working the House and Wednesday was devoted to the Senate and House members I was not able to meet with on Tuesday. I also met with Jan Russo of the Foundation for Florida’s Future on Wednesday morning.

The main issues I focused on were the 2009 IVBE Legislative Priorities, House Bill 991 sponsored by Representative Grady, Senate Bill 610 sponsored by Senator Wise, House Joint Resolution (HJR) 385 sponsored by Representative Rivera and Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 738 sponsored by Senator Bennett. Both resolutions would cap all property taxes at 1.35%. The bill, both the House and Senate version would provide school boards and superintendents with another tool to turn around failing schools and is being supported by the Superintendents Association and School Board Association.

This bill will allow school boards to work with an authorizer (Making the Grade Commission) to perform a study as to why the school has been failing (only F schools are eligible). This would include a fiscal review and would have as an outcome clear recommendations on closing it as a traditional public school and how it could be re-opened as a charter or several charter schools.. The school board could then allow the authorizer to release a Request for Proposal to bring in charter or charter schools. After 10 years, the schools would revert back to school district control as long as the schools were not running any other “F” schools.

The study would likely recommend using the same facility but perhaps in a different manner in the case of a newly modern existing school building. Charter school systems like KIPP and Green Dot have never come to Florida before. Having access to a facility would bring their costs down tremendously. This should excite them and is something that charter schools have never gotten in Florida before. This is very similar to what Arne Duncan was doing in Chicago before President Obama appointed him to head the US Department of Education.

To promote this bill, I met with both Republican and Democrat legislators or their staffs and highlighted the above points. I did receive some mixed results. The proposal that the charter school or schools would revert back to the school district was a turn off for some legislators and a turn on for others. One of the legislators asked me why anyone would want to return an “A” rated charter school back to the same school district that caused it to fail. I explained to her and others with the same concern that the courts have struck down other school reform programs and that the best way to achieve reform was to make concessions to get the support of both the Superintendents Association and School Board Association. She said she still doesn’t like it but that she would support the bill. For some of the other legislators the fact that the schools would revert back to the district was a selling point. I also ran into other legislators that are hostile to charter schools and would not support it under any circumstances.

I am not sure when this bill will be heard but I think that if representatives from both the Superintendents' Association and School Board Association testify favorably in committee hearings the bill will pass.

The legislators and aides I visited included Democrat Representatives Saunders, Thompson, Brise, Chestnut, Gibbons, Kiar, Jenne, Bullard, Reed, Clark-Reed, Jones, Kriseman, Heller, Roberson and Democrat Senators Siplin, Bullard, and Sobel. The Republican Representatives I met with included Rivera, Glorioso, Proctor, Weatherford, Coley, Ford, Hasner, Flores, Bogdanoff, Legg, Precourt, Culp, McKeel, Murzin, Gonzalez, Kelly, McBurney, Evers, Fresen, Plakon, Workman, Burgin, Stargel, Weinstein, Schenck, Hukill, Bovo, Mayfield, Grady. Republican Senators were Richter, Detert, Gaetz, Haridopolos, Storms, Wise, Garcia, Pruitt, and Constantine.

I limited my discussion with the Democrat legislators to House Bill 991 and Senate Bill 661. I included HJR 385 and SJR 738 in my discussion with the Republican legislators along with the 2009 IVBE Legislative Priorities. I also supplied key Republican legislators in both the House and Senate with copies of the $100,000 salary lists from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and let them know that things haven’t changed much since last year and that it is still business as usual. I also identified some potential new board members for IVBE from other parts of the state (Tallahassee, Escambia County, Daytona Beach, and Palm Beach County). I need to follow up with them and provide them with additional information.

Wednesday afternoon, Liza McFadden invited me to the Florida Space Day Reception on the 22nd floor of the Capitol Building. I briefed her on what I was able to accomplish while meeting with the Legislature. Later that day Manny Cid, the legislative aid to my state representative invited me to the 2009 Legislative Appreciation Cookout hosted by the Electric Cooperatives of Florida. It was a great event. Since I was able to accomplish almost everything I was hoping to, I departed Tallahassee on Thursday and headed home.

A group of Miami-Dade County Public School teachers will be going to Tallahassee the first week in April during their Spring break. Many of them are outraged at the waste and mismanagement that continues to go on at the district. The teachers and support staff are working at last year's salary schedule and were not given their step increases for this year. They are also angry with the union that represents them and continues to sell them out. The school district is trying to pressure them to take at least two teacher workdays off without pay. It is most unfortunate that some of these teachers who step up to the plate get harassed by the school district andare left out to hang by their union. Shawn Beghtol has again been brought up on bogus charges and will soon be facing his third conference for the record.

While it is noble that some of these teachers are speaking out and rocking the boat, it is most unfortunate that they do not know how to successfully fight back and defend themselves. I have to consider myself one of the fortunate ones; not only did I rock the boat, I did my best to sink it. During my tenure, I was never once threatened with a conference for the record or have ever had my competence questioned. One of the most memorable highlights of my teaching career was the proclamation the Miami-Dade School Board presented to me prior to my retirement.