PBC school board calls for suing state over charter-friendly law HB 7069

Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 7069 into law last month. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Palm Beach County School Board gave unanimous support Wednesday to a proposal to sue the state over charter school-friendly legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, authorizing its attorneys to study the best strategy for a legal challenge.

Board members stopped short of agreeing to file a lawsuit but directed their legal staff to consult with an private law firm and begin researching the best way to proceed with court action over House Bill 7069, a sweeping bill that includes a requirement that county school districts share property tax revenue with charter schools.

>> RELATED: Avossa calls for suing the state over charter-friendly law HB 7069

The school boards in Broward and St. Lucie counties have already voted to proceed with lawsuits, and more than a dozen other school boards have been conferring about ways to challenge the new law, officials said.

Palm Beach County School Board members (from left) Frank Barbieri, Marcia Andrews and Debra Robinson (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Board members Wednesday seemed conflicted about whether to participate with other school boards in a joint lawsuit or sue on their own, but they left no doubt about their intentions to challenge House Bill 7069 in court.

JulieAnn Rico, the school board’s general counsel, told board members that she had already selected a prominent private attorney to research a potential lawsuit and, if needed, move forward with legal action: Jon Mills of Boies Schiller Flexner.

Mills is a former speaker of the Florida House and former dean of the University of Florida’s law school.

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

Rico reminded the board of the difficulties of challenging the constitutionality of state actions in court, obliquely referencing the school board’s recent string of legal defeats over its efforts to bar two new charter schools from opening and to impose new restrictions on charters throughout the county.

“This board has already had the experience of taking on a constitutional challenge and its complexities,” she said.

Of the potential lawsuit over House Bill 7069, Rico added: “We know that it’s complex, it’s important and it’s a really big deal.”

>> RELATED: Charter school advocate: With lawsuit talk, Avossa aims to “wage war” on charters

House Bill 7069, a sweeping 274-page education overhaul, 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 for a school-voucher program for students with disabilities.

Teachers unions and school district leaders were enraged by provisions that they say give charter schools a greater competitive advantage over traditional schools: measures that force school districts to share construction money with charter schools and that create financial incentives for new charters to open and compete with low-performing public schools.

Board members seemed unfazed my the prospect of a legal challenge.

“These are issues that we think should be controlled by local school districts, not the state,” School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw said.

Board member Marcia Andrews called House Bill 7069 “a monster that needs to be really, really answered to by all school districts.”

“We must do something,” she said. “It’s really important when we look at this bill.”

School Board member Frank Barbieri said that, instead of a joint lawsuit, it may make more sense for each county school board to sue separately, a tactic that could make it more difficult for the state to defend itself in court.

“If we are going to sue, which we certainly should, we should make it as difficult and painful for the state legislature as they have made it for us to operate this school district, the highest performing large urban school district in Florida,” Barbieri said.

In Palm Beach County, a provision requiring school boards to share with charters property tax revenue dedicated to construction and maintenance will cost the school district an estimated $10 million next year alone, 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.

This month, Broward County’s school board voted to spend $25,000 to begin putting together a plan to take legal action against the state.

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.

Not everyone in the room was in agreement with the calls for a legal battle.

Lynn Norman-Teck, executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance, told board members that it was unfair to deny charter schools a share of the property taxes that school boards collect for construction and maintenance.

Charter school parents pay property taxes along with parents whose children attend traditional public schools, she pointed out.

“We believe that education funding should follow the child,” she said. “All students deserve to be in a safe facility that can meet their educational needs.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s