On the first Thursday of each month, the Leon County School’s District Advisory Council (DAC) can be found gathering to discuss important school related topics or receiving presentations on curriculum and programs.
The DAC is composed of representatives from each Leon County school and is an excellent example of home rule. The School Board relies on this body to review policy changes and make recommendations on a myriad of issues. The District understands that without advisory councils, they will not know how their policies and procedures impact individual schools.
A good system that could serve as a model to the Governor and Florida Legislature.
Over the last decade, our school boards and education system have suffered attack after attack on its ability to make the decisions necessary to educate our children.
The most recent fight was over mask mandates and who should have the authority to keep our children safe. The governor declared that only parents could make that decision and the Florida Legislature acquiesced to this concept.
While a vocal few stormed school board meetings and threatened school administrators, our DAC and Superintendent Rocky Hanna discussed the data in Leon County. Superintendent Hanna made the call to mandate masks after consultation and review of the facts in our community.
Our school board and superintendent are duly elected members of our community.
They were elected by citizens of our county to ensure the education of our children. We entrust them to gather as a collegial body and use the resources available to provide the best educational product.
To that end, when resources are scarce, they have to make tough decisions to provide the best service with the resources that are available.
This is why Home Rule was established.
Each year, the district receives approximately $7,700 to procure resources, pay teachers, and provide overall educational services for each child. However, with the increasing expansion of vouchers and charter schools, we are experiencing another erosion in our ability to provide the best educational product.
The Leon County School Board recently reviewed an application for a charter school. After reviewing the application, the application was denied. However, the Florida Department of Education overrode the district’s decision and approved the school.
This school now qualifies for $1.2 million in funding from the district’s budget. The same budget that does not go far enough in per child spending. The same budget that ensures the safety of our children by keeping up with infrastructure maintenance and transportation.
Our district reviews the needs in our county and makes objective choices about the additions of necessary school offerings. However, the DOE took into consideration the political ideology of the governor and education commissioner. This should not be the norm and definitely not the manner in which our state leaders should govern.
Local leaders must be allowed to make the best decisions for the communities they serve.
We hope legislators take into consideration home rule. We ask them to give local school boards and superintendents the same deference and ability to operate as they ask the federal government.
It seems quite hypocritical to have this body scoff at the federal government’s requirements as an invasion of state’s rights but then act the same way when it comes to local elected bodies and officials.
State’s rights are just as important as home rule. Most importantly, the rights of local school boards to make the decisions for their constituencies must not be eroded at the political whim of a few.
We must protect this most democratic right.
Jacquelyn Steele is a lifelong Leon County resident and parent representative to the District Advisory Council from Roberts Elementary School.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Home Rule: Eroding local school boards erodes public trust | Opinion