State leaders to school board: ‘We don’t want to mislead you’

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Members of the Indian River County School Board sat down with state representatives Tuesday morning in an effort to address the school district’s concerns over funding and legislative mandates.

“We don’t want to mislead you that we can pull rabbits out of hats,” said State Representative Ralph Poppell.

The comment came after two hours of discussion the two groups regarding moves within the Florida House of Representatives and Senate regarding budgets and educational funding. Board member Karen Disney-Brombach, who serves as the school board’s legislative liaison, brought up issues that included adequate funding and flexibility, class size reduction, school construction, Exceptional Student Education funding, and charter schools.

While no action was taken at the round table workshop, state leaders voiced support of the school board’s position and assured the members that they would do what they could to help.

They also reminded the board that education is one of many areas that the state legislature must fund.

“There are winners and there are losers” in the budgetary process, Senator Joe Negron told the board, adding that everyone is in competition for dollars.

Rep. Poppell said that of the state’s $66.5 billion budget, 32 percent (or 21.28 billion) goes to education. Another 39 percent (or $25.9 billion) goes to health care and human services.

“We all have to look at the big picture,” he said.

Other legislative representatives in attendance were Representative Debbie Mayfield, and representatives for State Senator Mike Haridopolos and U.S. Congressman Bill Posey.

“We know you’re doing the best you can,” Brombach-Disney told the legislators. However, she also added that the district has cut all it can from its budget short of touching school programs.

“We may have to close schools,” she said, in order to consolidate.

The Indian River County School District is anticipating further decline of $6 million to $12 million in state funds next fiscal year.

“This is not an expenditure problem,” she said. “It’s a revenue problem.”

Rep. Mayfield agreed with Brombach-Disney’s assessment regarding revenue, adding that at the state level, no one wants to increase taxes or fees. Instead, they are looking at other potential revenue sources, including drilling for oil off Florida’s coasts.

She said that, if approved, a percentage of the revenue from drilling could go to education.

There has also been discussion on the state level of funding education in part through gambling revenues from the compact the state is working on with the Native American tribes.

Rep. Poppell said that he does not support tying education to gambling for a couple reasons. One, because even gambling revenues are down due to the economy, which would mean fewer educational dollars. And two, because it would be hypocritical to accept funding through gambling ventures considering school districts suspend students for gambling at school.

However, he conceded that state revenue from gambling could be used to fund other state programs – such as health and human services – and free up those funds for education.

By the end of the workshop, the legislators said they would continue to look for ways to continue support for education funding and would review the suggestions put forth by the school district.

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