PBC school board to consider suing over charter-friendly bill

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County School Board members will be asked this month to decide whether to sue the state over House Bill 7069, a controversial education bill that steers more money towards charter schools, the county’s schools superintendent said.

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa told The Palm Beach Post Thursday that he will ask board members on July 19 to weigh whether to join Broward County’s public school system in challenging the new law in court.

On Wednesday, Broward County’s school board became the first in the state to vote to file suit over the bill, and several other county school boards are considering whether to join in.

Avossa said that school district attorneys have been conferring with Broward’s lawyers as well as attorneys for other school boards around the state. But to join the lawsuit, school board members would need to give the go-ahead.

“I need to talk to the board on the 19th of July,” Avossa said via text message. “”We’ve been collaborating with the other (school districts) via phone.”

>> Related: Gov. Scott just signed HB 7069. Here’s what it does.

The sweeping bill became a lightning rod for criticism from the state’s superintendents and public school teachers, and in May the county school board took the unusual step of asking the county’s more than 200,000 public school parents to pressure Scott to veto it.

Scott nonetheless signed the bill in June, saying it “paves the way for every Florida student to receive a world-class education that every student deserves.”

Palm Beach County’s school board took the rare step of asking parents to pressure Gov. Rick Scott to veto House Bill 7069. (Image courtesy of PBC school district).

The sweeping 274-page education overhaul redirects more than $400 million in state money and makes a host of changes to Florida’s public-school landscape, including eliminating a state math exam, requiring most public elementary schools to offer daily recess, and providing more money for teacher bonuses and a school-voucher program for students with disabilities.

But teachers unions and school district leaders were enraged by provisions that force school districts to share construction money with charter schools and create financial incentives for new charters to open and compete with low-performing public schools

The provision that most angered Avossa and other school district leaders is one that allows the county’s charter schools to take a slice of the money that school districts raise for construction and maintenance through a local property tax.

>> Related: PBC school board asks parents to join in push for Gov. Scott to veto state budget

In Palm Beach County, that provision will cost the school district an estimated $10 million next year, or about 2 percent of the district’s roughly $400 million capital budget. That figure is expected to rise as the number of charter schools grows.

Not only does the provision complicate the school district’s plans to build new schools, administrators say that it risks lowering the school district’s credit rating and raising the cost of borrowing money for future projects.

On Wednesday, Broward County’s school board voted to spend $25,000 to begin putting together a plan to take legal action against the state, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Broward officials argue that the law illegally restricts the school district’s sovereignty and improperly gives charters a portion of property tax proceeds They allege the bill also violates a requirement that legislative bills focus on a single subject.

Several other school boards, including those in Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties, are said to be considering joining the legal battle.

Palm Beach County’s school board is scheduled to meet July 19, and Avossa said he would ask the board for guidance then.

“I need some board direction,” he said.

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