Response from Fl Dept. of Ed.

Response From FL Dept. of Ed.

Dear Concerned Citizen: 

Commissioner Tony Bennett has asked our office to respond to your correspondence regarding Marion County School Board. On behalf of the Commissioner, we would like to thank you and assure you that he appreciates your interest and commitment to educational excellence. 

While public education is a responsibility of state governments, it is a local government function. As per Florida Statute 1003.02, district school boards are constitutionally and statutorily charged with the operation and control of public K-12 education within their school district. The district school boards must establish, organize, and operate their public K-12 schools and educational programs, employees, and facilities.

Schools are operated by locally-elected school board members, who can best be responsive to local community needs and interests. State laws give the responsibility for the day-to-day operations of schools, in fact any decision not mandated by state law, to local school districts. 

If the Bureau of Curriculum & Instruction can be of further assistance, please contact Jackie Speake, Science Content Specialist, at Jackie.Speake@fldoe.org or by phone at (850) 245-5068. 

Sincerely, 

Teresa Sweet, Chief

Bureau of Curriculum & Instruction

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Suggested Changes

Suggestions

By Alex McFadyen

In light of the activity currently taking place over the school budget and the mass layoffs I have been trying to research the laws controlling the decision process relating to the budget and hiring practices of our teachers.

The coverage by the news media is actually useless. They never provide any details or sources of information the general public could access and read to better understand the process that is currently being under taken. (They’re more interested in murder trials etc.) I’m told there are a number of state and federal regulations that dictate where some funds must be spent etc but never what they are. Is there a place the general public can go to find out which laws affect our budget process and gain access to them? I find it very difficult to make any meaningful suggestions when I don’t have access to any of the relevant information needed to base them on.

My primary concern is the future of our children. If we are to provide them with a quality education we also need high quality teachers to teach them. I’m deeply upset with the way the Marion County School System is misusing the teachers. A fully qualified teacher should never be asked to work for half pay and no benefits. They spent 1,000’s of dollars on their own education to become teachers and if we treat them this way how can we expect them to perform at their highest level? As a general rule substitutes perform at a level equal to or, is some cases, better than their peers. That being said, I believe substitutes should not be used to teach full time. A substitute is a temporary replacement for when a teacher is out sick or absent for a family emergency etc. These teachers are true subs and have chosen to work part time unlike today’s practice of using them to fill full time positions to save money. This is a disgraceful practice. How many teachers will we loose because of this? 

I’ve been writing to both the State and Federal representatives from my district asking them to step up and help. Our Governor needs to be made aware of the unintended consequences of his mandatory pay raises. How can we give pay raises to say 90% of our teachers and at the same time ask the last 10% to take a 50% pay cut and loss of all benefits. (Including the estimated $250 teachers are given to purchase school supplies)
My first recommendation would be the furlough days. For example: it’s my understanding that students attend school 180 days and teachers attend 197. At the beginning of the year there are 4 teacher days before the children start attending. Two are used for meetings and the other two are used for classroom set up. If we use the classroom set up days as furlough days wouldn’t that save approximately two million dollars? I’ve helped set up classrooms after school & on the weekends. Is that asking too much to save ones job? How many other teacher only days could be better utilized? Is it not also possible that some of the training they are paid to receive during the year could be done online instead to save money?

With regards to the cuts in Art, PE, Media Specialist etc. I have a question/suggestion. It’s my understanding that at the present time, students are required to have 150 minutes of PE each week with the remaining “specials” time divided between Art, Music and the Media Center. P. E. is a vital area in a decade where children spend more out of school hours in front of televisions and video game systems rather than in physical activity. However, in schools where 50 minutes is the “specials” hour, teachers often spend 15-20 minutes moving students back and forth. In primary grades, could this time be better spent in their classroom with their regular teacher handling art and music? How many media specialists actually have “classes” during this time or could students go to the media center in small groups? While I agree that Art and Music are valuable to a well-rounded education, these areas could be modified for K-2.

Another question I have is the costs of dual enrollment? If I understand this program correctly, students who are excelling in their academic classes are offered an opportunity to enroll in college courses during their junior and senior years, with many of them graduating from high school with one to two years of college credits. Is it necessary for these expenses to be covered by the budget that should be covering the K-12 education costs? With the increasing disadvantaged home lives that many of our student families face, i.e. low income, non-English speaking homes, migrants, homeless, transients, etc., many of our students are struggling just to receive a basic education. And these are the areas that we are currently cutting. Costs of post-secondary education are traditionally at the individual’s expense, through parents, scholarships, and student loans. Now, however, costs of post-secondary education is seemingly being awarded to those academically gifted students, while our basic education is being limited and cut for the most needy. Children who fall into this category will not benefit from larger classroom populations and certified substitute teachers who, while their hearts may be in the right place, will not have the benefit of the additional training of a certified full time teacher who is required to continually work on their own post-academic professional development.

Another area I feel needs further explanation and review is that of merit based pay raises for teachers. While this may not be directly linked to the current fiscal situation, it does have a direct link to the continuing need for quality teachers to teach our students, who, on average, are currently performing on or below the state average. This is not a criticism of our current system because I do recognize that many of our students come from home situations that do not afford them access to higher academic and learning environments. But if the District implements a merit based pay system, how will MCPS be able to attract quality teachers from other areas? A teacher with a classroom of students averaging 3 or better will obviously receive a higher score than a teacher who is in charge of struggling students who perform at grade levels a year or two behind, but in the current No Child Left Behind Program, have been promoted through grades K-2 without a stable academic foundation in basic reading and math skills. These students are prime examples of those who need smaller classrooms where small group and individual instruction (teacher time) is available to them to focus on areas of basic skills they need to improve upon. Students who read at below grade level will easily be lost and drift in basic academic areas when they are in a classroom with more students than currently allowed under the classroom cap.

Classroom sizes also bring up the question of the message we are sending our students when it is publicly stated that it is easier to “break the rule and pay the fine”. If we are teaching our children to follow in our footsteps, do we really want to send the message that while we understand the reason for the caps put on classroom size regarding student-teacher ratios, we are willing to pay the penalty because it will save money?

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Save Ocala’s Schools

Save Ocala’s Schools Speech

By Vickie Treulieb

Today I come before you because our students deserve better. Our community deserves better. I began Save Ocala’s Schools in reaction to the massive lay offs that occurred last Friday, completely blindsiding the educational community.

Our superintendent and our school board have lost sight of the main focus of education, our children. I’ve often heard it said from principals and teachers alike that we need to do what’s best for children. Today we’ve gathered here to remind our leaders to use their laser-like focus to hone in on what’s important in education, our children.

These children are our future. We shouldn’t jeopardize them in any way. Laying off teachers in lieu of certified subs and larger classrooms sends a message to our students that education doesn’t matter, that they don’t matter. These students have enough going on in their personal lives to have to worry about whether the school board values them. That’s our purpose as adults, to take care of our children. 

I want to take care of my children, not just my own child, but all my children. When you’re a teacher or teacher’s aid, when you do anything that puts you in direct contact with children, you open your heart and you adopt them as your own. I don’t want my son to face the mess that our schools are in today with the top leaders seemingly not caring about them. But moreover, I don’t want the 200 students I taught this year to lose faith next year. I don’t want the kids I taught as freshmen who are now graduating to think they shouldn’t be teachers and leaders of our community. I want them to know that they are worth it.

If we as educators lose track of what’s important, the children, then we’re not doing our job. How can a community rally behind a tax for education when our own school leaders don’t support it or say that it’s simply unnecessary? We need the school system to be honest with us before the situation becomes so dire that it jeopardizes the future of those whom we should hold so dear, our children.

It is not fair to shove students into large classrooms so that we can ignore state legislation. It is not fair that next year every elementary student will have only part time art, music, and media specialists at their schools. It is not fair that approximately 15% of next year’s Marion County Educators will be comprised of certified substitutes.

In light of this, I urge you to write your school board, your superintendent, Mr. Tomyn, and your state representatives to tell them how you feel. I urge you to actively participate in our community to make sure that we’re growing a brighter tomorrow. Above all, I urge you to remember what education is all about, the children. And I want you to realize one thing, our children deserve better. 

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Save Ocala’s Schools Rally

Save Ocala's Schools Rally

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June 6, 2013 · 3:01 am

The School Board Responds

Budget-Cutting Questions & Answers 

June 5, 2013 

Why not cut at the district level? 

Marion County Public Schools has eliminated dozens of district positions over the last five years, reassigned others back to the school level, and has the second-lowest administrative cost of all 67 Florida school districts. The district has forgone major technology upgrades, bus purchases, and other big-dollar items to keep more resources directly in the classroom. In the last decade, Marion County’s population grew 24 percent. During that same time, the district built six schools, added 434 teaching positions, 229 support positions, 10 school administrator positions, and eliminated 145 non-instructional positions. Given this, the district also cut its budget by $30 million since 2007. 

Why cut first-year teachers? 

53 art, music, physical education, media specialist, vocational administrator and testing coordinator positions, along with a number of other school-based teaching units, were eliminated from the 2013-2014 staffing plan. 160 first-year teachers were laid off to create vacancies for these teachers who have more seniority. 

Why eliminate art, music and PE from elementary schools? 

These programs have NOT been eliminated. All elementary students will still receive these programs but with fewer teachers. 

What about files on my H: drive / classroom computer? 

If teachers want access to stored files, they should save them to a thumb drive. Another option is to create a free account online offering free storage (Microsoft, Google, etc.) and transfer those files to that online location. Teachers will not have access to files once they are no longer employed by the district. 

Why not get rid of the “bad” teachers so new teachers can stay? 

Teachers with poor performance are released by their principals during the year or not reappointed for the next year. However, the number of teachers released for performance reasons did not create the number of vacancies necessary to place more senior teachers whose positions were lost in various cuts. The district hopes to rehire some first-year teachers to fill any remaining full-time teaching positions and 

certified substitute positions (utilized since the 2007-2008 school year). 

What are certified substitutes? 

A “certified substitute” is a person who holds a valid Florida teaching certificate or is eligible for certification in an initial subject area. Certified subs are eligible for long-term placement up to one year and are paid at a higher rate of pay than regular substitutes. Service years as a certified substitute DO count toward FRS retirement accrual. 

Why not cut School Board & Administrator salaries? 

School board member and superintendent salaries are set by the State of Florida based on population. School board members and superintendents have no control over their salaries. Other administrative salaries are set at the local level. Marion County Public Schools has consistently ranked in the bottom five when it comes to administrative costs for Florida’s public school districts (currently #66 of 67). 

What about raising more money? 

In 2011, school board members could have levied a quarter-mill increase to the Required Local Effort; they chose not to do so. In 2012, voters could have approved a half-mill increase to pay for art and music teachers, along with media specialists; they chose not to do so. Voters could also have approved a half-mill increase for technology and maintenance of current schools; they chose not to do so. By law, sales tax dollars cannot be used for salaries. 

Why are you building new schools if the budget’s so bad? 

A half-cent sales tax approved by and collected from voters in 2005-2009 is paying for Legacy Elementary, which opens this August. Teaching positions in this year’s operating budget will transfer from overcrowded schools to Legacy. The sales tax also built Liberty Middle School, Marion Oaks Elementary, and Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks. 

What happens to Class Size now? 

Class ratios will increase so fewer positions will be necessary; however, the district expects to meet class size requirement on a school-wide average, which is now the State requirement. 

How can teachers get a raise when new teachers are losing their jobs? 

Full-time teachers are receiving a state-mandated pay raise (approximately $7 million in MCPS). How this money is disbursed requires negotiating and approval from the local teacher’s union. 

Why not force Early Retirement on employees? 

We cannot force but could offer an early retirement plan. However, this requires significant investment up-front (at least $1 million) for “buy out” of accrued days (sick, vacation, etc.). In 2009, over 100 employees accepted this option. Because offering early retirement requires considerable “up front” costs, it’s not a feasible option for the 2013-14 budget year. 

Why are you cancelling Dual Enrollment classes? 

We’re not! These classes will continue but at a yet-to-be-determined cost due to new state law. Districts are now required to pay a negotiated portion to colleges which partner on this program in addition to higher costs for textbooks. 

What about a 4-day school week? 

Though once considered, this is not a viable option now because of state funding. When FL DOE said it would cut transportation funding by 20%, this killed the four-day week proposal. Transportation costs for Marion County are huge and funded at less than 50 cents on today’s dollar. Additional cuts deflate the potential to make this major change worthwhile. As well, the community resounded loudly against the idea, citing disruption to parent work schedules. Finally, support personnel salaries for bus drivers, custodians, and food service workers would automatically be cut 20% with a four-day work week. 

Why offer summer institutes and classes that pay teachers? 

The cuts announced recently are for NEXT school year and summer programs NEXT year. Programs for this summer (2013) are in this year’s budget. As well, certain programs REQUIRE teacher training in order to receive program funding. 

Why not eliminate free breakfast and lunch for students? 

The Federal Lunch program reimburses the district for costs associated with free/reduced meals for breakfast and lunch. This program is self-sustaining and provides the healthiest and most nutritional meals of the day for many students. This funding cannot be used for any other purpose. 

Why not just borrow from the “savings” account again? 

This is no longer an option. The district borrowed $10 million from its reserve fund to balance this year’s budget. The district must maintain three percent minimum in reserves; falling below this threshold involves increasingly invasive measures by the state. 

What else is the district considering? 

 

 Furlough Days – 1 furlough day district-wide = $1 million savings (approximately) 

 

 Salary cuts district-wide 

 

Budget Suggestions Already Considered / Taken 

X 4-day school week 

√Reduce in-house custodians 

√Outsource some custodial services 

√Eliminate paraprofessionals (decreasing # each previous year) 

√Mandatory daily computer shutdowns 

√4-day summer work week 

√Delay major purchases (technology, buses, etc.) 

√Reduce energy use (and recycle) 

√Freeze district department budgets 

√Freeze open positions 

√Reduce substitute teacher dollars at school level 

√Cancel summer school (2014) 

√Consolidated summer programs 

√Borrowed $10 million from reserve fund to balance 2012-13 budget 

√Eliminate 1st- and 2nd-grade standardized testing 

√Eliminate courtesy busing 

√Mandatory shut-down at Christmas Break and Spring Break 

√Virtually eliminated overtime 

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Displaced Teachers

Another issue that hasn’t been really brought up, granted it’s no where near as bad as the teacher layoffs, is the fact that just a few weeks ago they opened up transfer spots knowing this was coming. A certain school was told they would be given another science unit (teacher) so the principal posted, interviewed and hired a teacher from another school within the district for next year. When the principal was told a week later he wouldn’t get that unit, the incoming teacher displaced a teacher that had been teaching science there for multiple years (and has taught middle school science for 13 years) . And when I say displaced I don’t mean being moved to another grade or subject, I mean no longer has a job at that school. She has been placed in a pool and will be offered a position somewhere else in the district. This displaced teacher had many accolades, including being a Golden Apple finalist for the school as well as doing work for E-Marion and benchmark testing.

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It Isn’t Right; It Isn’t Moral; It Just Isn’t the Same

n Marion County, Florida, 260 teachers have lost their jobs as of late. In the eyes of some, an education is standard and taken for granted. To others, education is a privilege, a blessing and the key to a better tomorrow. The recent decisions of the Marion County public education system have paraphrased the following: 

“Take a pay cut or take your things when you leave.” 

“We’d rather break the law, exceed classroom sizes and compromise our youth’s education than pay our teachers a raised salary. “ 

Now, mind you, my view towards elected officials is normally one of skepticism, little faith and distrust. With recent happenings, I carry an infuriated, disgusted and disappointed demeanor towards them. The future generations that will be taking care of us when we are elderly, protecting us and even possibly leading us are being compromised by the poor decisions of elected officials at the Marion County School Board. 

The plan is to expand classroom sizes beyond 30 thirty students (breaking the law) and replace designated teachers with certified substitutes. 

sub·sti·tute – noun -\ˈsəb-stə-ˌtüt, -ˌtyüt\: a person or thing that takes the place or function of another. (Work Accredited to Merriam-Webster)

I carry no contempt towards substitute teachers, don’t get me wrong. But the last time I checked, the concept of substitution in almost any situation does not always end up with an equivalent or greater result. You could substitute a cheeseburger with a turkey sandwich, sure. However, if you’re trying to convince me or these students that a turkey sandwich produces the same effect as a cheeseburger, you might receive a few puzzled looks. Bottom line of the analogy being, It just isn’t the same thing, the same going for permanently replacing a full-time teacher with a certified substitute.

We respect and support our firefighters, our policemen and women as well as our Emergency Medical Service crew. Our teachers are being shown far less support and respect than they deserve. These are the men and women we are entrusting future generations with. For the men and women who build foundations for the future and beyond, I forever display my undying respect and support for them without question. 

Sincerely, 

A former student of Marion County Public Schools. 

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