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District joins suit against state

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In a 3-2 vote, school board agrees to join challenge to education bill that gives preference to charter schools

The Wakulla County School Board voted Monday night to join school districts across Florida in a legal challenge to House Bill 7069, a controversial education-conforming law that critics say will undermine local control and expand the charter school system.
Thirteen other school districts are suing over the law.
After hearing the opinion of Superintendent Bobby Pearce, who supported joining in the lawsuit, the five school board members stated their opinions, which ranged from you have to fight back when confronted with a bully to this fight will go on without us, better to spend our money on something other than schools.
In an age where every disgreement seems to resort to name-calling, the decorum was remarkable as the school board members quietly listened to each other and expressed respect for differing opinions.
Board member Greg Thomas closed the discussion with comments that he respected fellow board members with different views and believed that all were acting from a sincere belief in doing what is best for the students of Wakulla County.
Pearce said that Wakulla is being asked to commit to $10,000 in legal fees against the controversial law. Other, larger districts have been asked to commit more money.
“I don’t want to be on the outside watching the game,” Pearce said. “I want to be part of the game.”
All board members agreed that the education law is bad, that it gives a preference to charter schools over public schools, including getting into the capital outlay funds of districts. All believed it was a poke in the eye to local districts from the legislature.
“I think it’s unconstitutional to take your tax dollars and send it out to a charter school,” said School Board Chair Becky Cook. An example given was of a charter school in Bay County that doesn’t meet the local building code that the district will inherit if the charter school fails, along with all the liability of owning the building.
Board member Melisa Taylor countered that the lawsuit will only “fan the flames” of the bad relationship between the districts and the legislature.
“I can’t vote to join in a lawsuit,” she said, “to take the tax money I am entrusted to spend on students and spend on a lawsuit... Even if I don’t believe in all the things in 7069.”
Board member Verna Brock answered that it is public schools that made America great. She believed the law is an attack on public education. “Charter schools,” she said, “I don’t feel are held to the same standards as public schools; charter schools are not held to the same rigor as public schools...
“I cannot stand by and let other people fight the fight,” Brock said.
Board member Joann Daniels said she felt that districts are being attacked by the legislature, which does not listen to school administrators. “They see us as somebody you can kick to the side,” she said, adding that she wanted to “stand up for our kids and our classrooms.”
Taylor responded that it should also be kept in mind that while the school board are elected officials – so, too, are legislators.
“But I have not seen a huge outcry from the community to fight this,” Taylor said.
Daniels answered, “I think they’re letting us handle it because they don’t have a clue” about the issues.
Thomas gave his view: “I love this school system and public education,” he began, “but I also believe public education in our country is broken and that is something we are being penalized for... We have an awesome school system here, but that is not the case everywhere.”
He noted that the legislature’s path of preferring charter schools over public schools is the wrong path.
“If the legislature would quit trying to manipulate the system to benefit charter schools and private schols, the people who care about kids would come out victorious,” Thomas said.
But the lawsuit, he said, is nothing more than poking a finger in the eye of a bear. All it will result in is a more entrenched legislature.”They’re already taking away home rule,” he said.
Still, he said, leave well enough alone.
Cook got in the last word: “To me, it’s bullying and I don’t believe in backing down to a bully.”
Daniels made a motion to join the lawsuit, seconded by Brock, and they were joined by Cook in voting for the motion.
Thomas and Taylor voted no.