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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hundreds in the Polk County school district lose their jobs

From the

The Florida Legislature's reckless disregard for the citizens and families its members are elected to serve landed with a wince-creating crash on the desk of the Polk County School Board on Tuesday.

Not only — because of state funding reductions of $17 million — did school officials lay out a plan to cut 61 positions from schools, 123 positions from district offices and the hours of 107 workers, they had just learned of additional funding reductions Monday.

The new cuts, totaling $9.9 million in state funding reductions, are the result of bonus budget-cutting work by legislators in the final week of their annual two-month session in Tallahassee. The session ended one week ago.

In recognition of the heavy-handed, cut-happy voting record of Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, disgruntled residents protested at his office Tuesday. A smattering of supporters was present as well.


The board says none of the cuts are to instructional positions — those assigned directly to students — but 21 of the eliminated positions are for media specialists (think library programs), 176 are paraprofessionals, 20 are guidance counselors, and 11 are college and career specialists.

Even if the School District is able to rehire the people now attached to those positions as others retire from the district at the end of the year or move on for other reasons, those valuable positions will be gone. Students will be worse off for the loss.

The Legislature is directly to blame. The legislators who voted for education reductions should be ashamed of the disrespect they have shown students of our county and state.

The School Board's approach is a reasonable way of handling a bad situation, but one board member voted against the plan. Debra Wright voted no.

She said it makes no sense to put into place a plan drawn up before the last-minute addition of $9.9 million in reductions was approved by the Legislature.

She is correct that the vote was premature. Further study and adjustment to the plan would have been better.

The dogmatic approach of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, mixed with Scott's tea party base and that of many legislators, drove them to ignore a reasonable approach to balancing the budget.

Restoration of some modest taxes and fees eliminated in previous sessions would have made this session's budget cuts less extreme, while still meeting the Florida Constitution's requirement for a balanced budget.

Rep. McKeel was in the thick of the cut-no-matter-what legislating. It is no wonder that protesters marched on his office.

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