School funding issue highlights Pasco’s legislative delegation

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More than 30 citizens and civic leaders made their voices heard on a variety of hot issues at the Pasco County Legislative Delegation Annual Meeting at Zephyrhills Town Hall.

One of the key themes of the September 1 gathering was the refinement of funding for schools in the region.

The annual event allows residents, elected officials, city and county government officials, and civic organizations to speak directly to their lawmakers before the start of the next legislative session.

The Pasco County Legislative Delegation’s annual pre-sessional meeting was held on September 1 inside Zephyrhills Town Hall. Over 30 citizens and civic leaders have raised their voices on a variety of hot issues including education, criminal justice, healthcare, small businesses, nonprofits, environmental and municipal infrastructure. (Kevin Weiss)

Pasco’s delegation includes state representatives Amber Mariano, Ardian Zika and Randy Maggard; and State Sens. Wilton Simpson (current Senate Speaker), Ed Hooper and Danny Burgess, respectively. Maggard was absent from the delegation meeting.

Colleen Beaudoin, Pasco County School Board Member, opened the conversation on education by addressing the delegation on inequalities in funding for virtual schools.

Beaudoin asked state officials to consider an amendment that would remove wording from a Florida law that would put Pasco’s virtual program at a disadvantage over the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) program.

Current law restricts Pasco eSchool to obtaining full-time equivalent (FTE) funding during the 180-day school calendar, while the state’s virtual school can register FTEs throughout the summer. , explained Beaudoin.

This situation hurts students who want to take online courses during the summer, whether to meet graduation requirements or accelerate their learning, she said.

She also noted that Pasco eSchool offers over 50 courses that are not available from FLVS, including high interest electives, dual enrollment, advanced placement, and professional and technical courses.

“We want every opportunity to be available to provide choice for our students and families,” said Beaudoin, professor of mathematics at the University of Tampa and chair of the education department.

Beaudoin presented three cases of denied funding for students to take virtual district courses.

“Please plan for the same funding you provide for FLVS. “

United School Employees of Pasco President Don Peace intervened to voice concerns about “the state’s wording and categorical restrictions in allocating increased teachers’ salaries.”

The union leader said he agreed with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to increase salaries to recruit new teachers.

But, Peace said there needed to be accommodations for more experienced teachers, especially with regard to wage cuts.

The first 15 years of teachers’ salaries have been squeezed at Pasco – meaning a 15-year-old teacher earns the same salary as a teacher fresh out of college, Peace said.

Peace suggested changing state guidelines on the allocation of teachers’ salaries. Currently, he is calling for 80% of the funds to be used to increase base salary, with 20% for those already above base salary.

He suggested it should be split 50/50, which would allow school boards to increase the salary cap to recognize long-term employees.

Peace also urged lawmakers to improve salaries for bus drivers, guards, food and nutrition service workers and other support staff.

Tammy Rabon-Noyce is the Executive Director of CLASS Pasco, a non-profit organization that represents the interests and advocacy of over 260 principals, vice-principals and staff.

She underscored the need for legislators to involve school administrators and organizations such as CLASS Pasco in shaping education policies and funding.

She also called on the state to give local districts more freedom in spending decisions.

“We need autonomy over the (state) funds that you all provide us so generously, and we ask you to consult with us – let us explain the implications of the policies you are considering and leverage our expertise,” Rabon said. Noyce said.

Other topics included criminal justice, health care, small business, nonprofits, environmental and municipal infrastructure.

There has even been talk of how the Sunshine State can better position itself to attract more film and television productions.

Tampa-based actor Ray Watters spoke on behalf of Film Florida, a statewide nonprofit entertainment association.

The longtime professional actor pointed to the potential economic windfall if Florida was able to attract more film and production companies.

“It’s really, really disheartening for me to know that Florida is the only state in the Southeast, and one of 16 states in the United States, without a program to compete for film and television projects, which makes us place at a major competitive disadvantage. ”he said.

Watters claimed Florida lost nearly 100 major film and television projects that would have accounted for more than $ 1.5 billion spent statewide, 125,000 casting and crew jobs, and 250,000 hotel nights. .

A handful of passionate speakers called on the legislative delegation to institute a statewide anti-tether law.

Betsy Coville, a resident of Lutz, a veterinarian for more than three decades, said anti-tether legislation promotes public safety and gives law enforcement additional tools to prevent dog fights.

Dog fights, Coville added, are linked to illegal drugs and money laundering.

She also described the inhumane treatment suffered by dogs who are tied to a fixed object outside for long periods of time.

“A dog tied to a chain has a very small and lonely world. They eat, sleep and live in the dirt where they urinate and defecate, ”said Coville.

“They are at the mercy of rain, cold, heat and sitting targets for biting insects and predators, humans and animals. They are not part of a loving family and rarely have proper food, shelter, or veterinary care.

“Dogs are social animals and over time a lack of companionship and attention leads to fearful, anxious and often aggressive animals.”

Although four hours had been allocated for the meeting of the legislative delegation, the speakers concluded their remarks in two hours.

Each speaker had three minutes to make their points and requests.

“Believe it or not, Pasco County has shown how to organize a delegation meeting,” said Burgess, chairman of the delegation, referring to the efficiency of the meeting.

The Florida legislature kicks off the 2022 regular session on January 11. The Fall Interim Committee meeting schedule began September 20 and ends in early December.

Posted on September 29, 2021


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