Clashing amendments


Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 10:13 p.m.
If two proposed constitutional amendments are passed they would create complex challenges in public school financing.
Floridians may get the opportunity to remake public education in radical - and perhaps even conflicting - ways this coming election season.
A national organization called First Class Education is hoping to get a proposed state constitutional amendment on the fall ballot that would require school districts to spend 65 percent of their operating revenues in the classroom - presumably on teacher salaries, school supplies and the like.
Nobody can say just why 65 percent is the magic number to education reform, but the presumption behind the initiative is that too much money is wasted on school "bureaucracy." But educators worry that if it's passed it will impact a district's ability to spend money on everything from bus drivers to guidance counselors to school nurses to janitors . . . never mind vice principals and secretaries.
But let's take amendment supporters at their word that we're spending too much money on bureaucracy. What then should be made of another proposed amendment that is likely to come out of the state Legislature this session.
Florida currently has 67 school districts, one for every county. The amendment being considered by lawmakers would allow counties with more than 45,000 students to subdivide into school districts with as few as 20,000 students each.
If it passed, Dade County alone would have the potential to create 18 districts. If all of the largest districts opted to subdivide, Florida could end up with as many as 78 new districts, or a total of as many as 145 districts.
That would be 145 locally elected school boards, 145 superintendents, 145 district headquarters and 145 separate district bureaucracies.
Critics of the measure say it would guarantee that more money would be spent on bureaucracy and less in the classroom.
So what would happen if both amendments pass?
Presumably the 145 districts would, individually, be required to spend 65 percent of their operations budget in the classroom. The question is, when you get through dividing 67 budgets into 175 budgets, do you really end up spending spending less money on bureaucracy, or are you simply duplicating the bureaucracy and spreading it ever thinner?
The creation of smaller school districts brings with it other concerns - most prominently the potential for poor, inner city and heavily minority neighborhoods to be segregated away from more affluent, white communities.
Both initiatives are based on two attractive, though perhaps simple-minded ideas: smaller is better and bureaucracy is bad.
But what if both attractive albeit simple-minded ideas were to pass? No question that together they would create a whole new, and vastly more complex set of challenges in public school financing for years to come.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top