The Florida Coalition of School Board Members hosted a member’s only educational roundtable webinar yesterday with Senator Don Gaetz. Gaetz (Senate President 2012-2014) is in his final term in the Senate, having spent nearly a decade in this position. “I started out like you all, first as a school board member, then I became a Superintendent of Schools, and finally I slid all the way down to become a state Senator” quipped Gaetz at the beginning of the call.
“This was a good session for education in general, we did not get everything we wanted, but we did get a lot of things that are good” Gaetz told the assembled group of school board members from around the state. “It was also a good session for your group [FCSBM] as language was put into [HB] 7029 that allows you all to pull your share of membership dues away from FSBA”
When asked about CAPE, he pointed out that this program that he supported strongly, has exceeded expectations, with more than 400,000 Florida students having earned industry certifications thus far as a result of this program.
When asked by Tina Calderone of Seminole County about the “Seminole Solution” regarding testing reform—Sen Gaetz responded by saying the Senate was ready to move on testing reform and legislation was submitted in the Senate to address many areas of reform the Dr. Griffin and Seminole County had described. “There was no movement at all in the house on this issue” Gaetz said.
I asked about how we are to ensure all students’ privacy rights are maintained with respect to the mandate from President Obama’s Department of Education regarding transgender students and access
to locker rooms in particular. “We have $19Trillion in debt, going to $21 Trillion, ISIS is on the march overseas, we have a real problem with illegal immigration----and Obama and the DOE are now taking the role of Bathroom Police?” Gaetz mused to preface his answer. “As a former school board member and a former Superintendent of schools, I would say to you that much of this will be litigated and not resolved prior to the next [Presidential] administration taking over. So if I were a school board member right now I would tell the people that we are going to continue our existing policies….”
When asked by Erika Donalds, a school board member from Collier County and the current President of FCSBM, about the charter school capital outlay differences between the House and the Senate this past session, Sen Gaetz said that he felt that the dollars should follow the students but that as a matter of practical reality it may not be possible to ever get all the capital dollars to follow students that go to charter schools. “I was approached by superintendents from around the state who told me point blank that ALL of the capital funds were already encumbered by bankers in New York—and to provide capital dollars to charter schools would make them go insolvent.” Gaetz said. “Come to find out, this was not entirely true, and in the end a compromise position was taken between the House and the Senate with respect to the charter school capital issue.”
When Shawn Frost, school board member from Indian River County, asked Senator Gaetz about his biggest concern with respect to educational matters going forward, he was direct in his answer. “The single most important issue going forward is getting our testing under control as a state-- or else we will lose it” he warned. “We have a perfect storm, we have those that for political reasons do not ever want to measure student’s progress, the Obama/United Nations conspiracy theorists that hate standardized testing, combined with those in the middle who want testing but are weary of all the problems we’ve had. If we don’t address this we will lose our testing because this perfect storm of opponents will take it away and then it is gone. If I had one more session, I’d file legislation and we would get it fixed” Gaetz concluded.
We thanked Senator Gaetz for his service and his attention to educational matters over the last decade in the Senate, and he praised our organization for taking a strong stand on some major educational policy issues; he thanked us for lobbying effectively this session to get some strong educational law passed.
This was an extremely beneficial call, and I’m thankful to Sen. Gaetz and the FCSBM for putting this event together.