Palm Beach County’s public school system called on parents Wednesday to pressure Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Legislature’s proposed state budget and a sweeping education bill, saying that both would harm the school district’s financial ability to teach children.
Taking advantage of its massive bully pulpit as the educator of more than 165,000 students, the school district emailed parents across the county to urge them to contact Scott’s office, providing his office’s phone number and email.
“Call Governor Scott and encourage him to use his veto powers,” the message said.
Scott has criticized the Legislature’s spending plan and hinted Tuesday at the possibly of a veto, which would send state lawmakers back to Tallahassee to draw up a new spending plan or vote to override the veto.
“I am beginning to review the budget,” Scott said in a statement, “and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers.”
With the unusual call on parents to take political action, the school district heightened its pushback against the Legislature’s budget, which public school leaders say gave them short shrift, and an education bill that gives charter schools a larger share of money typically reserved for traditional public schools.
“It is rare that the Board or School District use our public platforms to advocate on an issue,” the district wrote in its message to parents. “However, vetoing the budget and sending legislators back to Tallahassee is critically important to our school district, our employees and most importantly our students.”
Avossa said that calling for parents to become politically active was appropriate considering the “unprecedented” nature of the Legislature’s proposals.
“Obviously we can’t force anybody to do that, but we think it’s important to get the message out,” he said.
The email was sent out on the heels of a discussion Wednesday by county school board members that centered on the portions of the legislation that they viewed as a threat to public school operations.
Under the proposed state budget, Palm Beach County schools would see a 1.3 percent increase in money it receives per student from the state. That’s roughly the same increase that it received last year, records show. But school districts statewide would receive a far lower increase on average of just 0.3 percent.
Meanwhile, other sources of state money would be carved up, with a disproportionate share going to charter schools, district officials said.
School board members were equally troubled by the passage of a sweeping education bill (House Bill 7069), which would allow charter schools to take a share of local property taxes dedicated to school construction and maintenance that, until now, could only be used by traditional public schools.
That could mean the school district being required to hand over $10 million next year to charter schools that would otherwise be dedicated to the district’s own construction and repairs.
“It’s going to jeopardize our ability to maintain our facilities once again,” said Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer. “If we take this type of hit it’s really going to have a dramatic impact.’
School board member Frank Barbieri applauded the call to action, saying that he was “shocked that the public is not outraged.”
“The governor needs to veto this bill because it’s not good for kids,” he said.
School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw echoed his concerns.
“It is a direct attack on every parent in Palm Beach County for parents to live with this,” he said.