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Monday, April 11, 2011

Senator Wise draws ire state wide

From the St.Augustine.coms editorial page

The rift between educators and legislators keeps widening. Unfunded mandates like merit pay, new teacher performance requirements, class size requirements and cuts in per-student spending are among the issues on which the two sides have been at odds in recent years.

When it comes to chopping funds from the state budget, schools get as much of a hit as anyone else despite that public education is a state obligation. St. Johns County's School District has lost $45 million-$50 million in four years. Add to that the forecasted $20.2 million cut for next year, which is the result of unrenewed federal stimulus funds, additional loss of state funds and a reduction in capital outlay funds due to voter rejection of .25 millage rate increase.

There's a couple of new wrinkles causing erosion of the relationship between educators and lawmakers. It appears to be retaliatory.

Lawmakers are considering the cut off of the payroll deduction for teacher union dues. That's something that goes back to the beginning of collective bargaining in the mid 1970s. Is it because teachers have been on the forefront of demonstrations against lawmakers over pay tied to student test scores on the state's controversial assessment tests, the dreaded FCAT? Lawmakers say no.

School board members and even superintendents, including St. Johns Superintendent Joe Joyner, have gone beyond lobbying and board meetings to air their displeasure with state funding. They joined teachers for a rally in mid-March protesting Senate Bill 736, the massive education reform bill that's now law.

Now lawmakers, led by Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, are after school board members statewide. The Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee, which is chaired by Wise, has under its consideration SB 2172, initially filed by him but now a committee bill. It would end school board salaries starting with members elected or reelected in 2012. The bill calls for stipends of no more than $100 per meeting; up to $2,400 annually. The average annual school board member's salary in Florida is about $31,000. St. Johns County's pay is $33,467 determined by a state formula.

SB 2172 also eliminates retirement benefits for school board members. Wise says board members are overpaid and that most in the nation get stipends of around $100 per meeting. He sees the bill as saving money to put into classrooms. While that is a commendable view to add money to the classrooms, it's questionable what impact that $10 million savings would have statewide.

Here's why we think Wise's view is unfair:

* Florida's districts are much larger than most in the nation. Our board members set every local policy that governs the school district's operation, including student conduct, dress code, starting and ending times for the school day, etc.

* Regular salaries allow almost anyone in the state to run for office and if elected, serve without juggling a second job. Board office then is not restricted to only the rich who don't need extra compensation. We think unpaid boards are commendable for certain organizations, but not for school districts.

Because lawmakers can change the laws for teacher pay, hours in a school day, length of a school year, subjects required for graduation, amount of local taxation a district has to levy, for example, they can look like bullies rather than partners in public education.

If Wise thinks school board members can function on stipends and expense reimbursements, then why isn't he suggesting the same for other public boards statewide like county commissions and even the Legislature?

Lawmakers should nix the school board member salary prohibition bill.


Tell Wise about SB 2172

To contact Wise directly, e-mail him at or call his office at (850) 487-5027.

Senate Education meeting Thursday

The Senate Education, Pre-K-12 committee is scheduled to meet at 9:15 a.m. on Thursday in Senate Room 312, Tallahassee. SB 2172, formerly known as SPB 7234, was not on the agenda as of Friday. For information, contact the committee's office at (850) 487-5213 or go to for the weekly schedule of meetings.


  1. I read about this proposal for SB stipends in the Suwannee Democrat. I must say that I do not usually agree with the Republicans, but I do on this bill. The Education Department has suffered massive cuts in areas of high importance...teacher's pay and classroom needs. I feel that SB wages should have been the first area of cutbacks, instead of the above mention ones. SB members can function on stipends and expense reimbursemnts with a cap, just as teachers, who are at the forefront for educating our childrens, have to deal with the shortfall of the Education budget. The $10 million saving should be put back in the classrooms.

  2. If this was about saving money I might agree with you but I beleive this is about Wise bullying people who question him... also if we cut the legislature and their staffs budget we could save tens of millions of dollas... the whole goose/gander thing...

  3. Isn't this proposal a step in Rick's Scott administration to cut spending, without a reduction in jobs and if some of the $10 million savings is put back in the classroom (where it is needed), possibly increase jobs? Perhap this is a small step, but a beginning. Also, this could be/SHOULD BE a plan of action for the legislature and their staffs to follow...WHAT A SAVINGS!!!

  4. Because of the massive education budget cuts, Miami Dade just fired 200 workers and cut the pay of others by 20 percent. The superintendant warned other cuts in staff were coming. Sadly Wise is nothing but a misguided bully.

  5. Wise is taking the step in the right direction. If some of the millions in saving is put back in the classroom, perhaps some of the just fired 200 workers in Miami Dade can be put back to work. Once again, this bill provide for a decrease in spending, no loss of jobs, and perhap a increase in jobs. I do believe this SB stipends should have been implemented, first, before the firing of educators.