I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who Are The Schmucks?

Is it outrageous to think that an organized governing body comprised of constitutional officers could blatantly violate state law and face no consequences? How about if dozens of governing bodies throughout a state violated a law and no action was taken against them?

This just happened in Florida.

The 2010-2011 school year was the final year for the phase-in of the 2002 class size constitutional mandate. Some districts, including Escambia County, followed the law and complied with it to the letter. And full compliance in Escambia County was not fully funded by the legislature—Escambia received just shy of $1 Million from the state for the final phase of compliance, yet the cost for full compliance locally was $4 Million. This was a giant unfunded mandate.

This situation resulted in a heated discussion at the School Board workshop of one year ago, May 14th 2010. There was talk at this particular meeting of “doing our best” and “trying” to comply with the strict provisions of the final phase of the law.

But our school board put its foot down at that meeting and said total compliance with the class size law was the only option for Escambia County Schools for 2010-2011.

Now, as the dust settles on the2010-2011 school year, we learn that over 30 Florida districts failed to comply. Several districts fell blatantly short and appear to have not even tried. Reasons have been universally weak.

“The legislature didn’t fund us for it” some districts said. But all districts receive the same per-student base allocations, so that argument fails.

“Amendment 8, if passed, would have relieved us from the burdens of the final phase of the law” other districts said. But this argument is preposterous because Amendment 8 didn’t pass and everyone knew it was going nowhere.

Insert into this chaotic mix the threats of “penalties” for districts out of compliance by the legislature, followed by threats of a lawsuit by the school boards association if the state penalized any districts, followed by talk of lawsuits by others if compliance did not occur and penalties were not levied.

Confused yet?

Don’t worry, all of this occurred under the backdrop of an oil spill, a lingering recession, statewide elections, and the worst economic mess this area has seen since the great depression.

So what was the result? Opinions vary. While the legislature and the department of education came up with a nifty formula for penalizing out-of-compliance districts--this plan has been winnowed down to a point that it’s toothless. Example—for spending $3Million over what we were funded for compliance, Escambia will receive a whopping $220,000.00, meaning we SPENT a net $2.8Million to fully follow the law. Congratulations, right?!

Palm Beach County, on the other hand (the most out of compliance district in the state) did not spend the estimated $59 Million it would have had to spend to fully comply, and for that it will be penalized $4Million dollars—meaning Palm Beach County SAVED as much as $55Million dollars via their non-compliance! And apparently there will be no legal repercussions for their failure to comply.

Perplexed, I asked our attorney her opinion on this matter. “How could these various constitutional officers get away with not following state law?” I’ve not yet received her official answer, but she has said it’s not a simple question and will require further research. So I’ll answer my own question with this rhetorical question.

Are we the Schmucks for following the law, when others saved their constituents $Millions by disregarding the law and apparently getting away with it?

You decide.

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