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Florida CRC: “One More Step Towards Centralization and Concentration of Power at the State Level”?

Indian River County Commissioner, Bob Solari is a strong proponent of local control and he said so at the recent Local Government Committee meeting of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. During the 12/14/17 committee meeting, Commissioner Solari explained why he would be voting in support of local control and against Proposal 33, Commissioner Erika Donalds’ proposal which would require all counties to appoint, rather than elect, their local school superintendent. Currently 44 out of 67 districts, mostly smaller and/or rural counties, elect their superintendent. Solari called Donald’s proposal “one more step towards centralization and concentration of power at the state level, to the detriment of individual choices of citizens at the local level.” Amen.

We agree that the decision whether to appoint or elect a district superintendent belongs to the local voters and should not be etched in the Florida Constitution. Placing such issues on the state wide ballot could force the will of the majority on the rights of these small counties. We, also, agree that the proposed title, “The Professional Superintendents Proposal”, is a significant insult to the professionalism of the state’s 44 currently elected superintendents.

Solari’s discussion of Proposal 33, and the importance of local control, begins at 1:39:30:

“I think my basic view of this… actually a citizen who emailed the CRC yesterday sets it up very, very well. It’s a short email and it states: “I say local schools plus local voters plus local children equals local decision-making.” And, as a local official, that’s not surprisingly something I very much believe in… I believe this proposal is, again, one more step towards centralization and concentration of power at the state level, to the detriment of individual choices of citizens at the local level.  I believe that the use of the Constitution, in this manner, just pushes for the homogenization of the state of Florida…

I believe that most of the people that spoke said this very much better than I did. Some of my favorite comments include “choice”, “a very condescending approach” and “a dismissal of an entire segment of our society.” And I tend to believe when one large group… and this is exactly when the federal Constitution, what they tried to prevent… was the idea of the majority stepping on the rights of the minority and I think this is a very clear case and you all made this a lot clearer to me than I had when I came in here.

I believe again that this is something that runs through a lot of the CRC proposals that you see, and in my life as a public official… is the statement that one if you mentioned: “you do not have the ability to choose your leader”… Well I believe that if you do not have the ability to choose your leader, the “smarts” enough to choose your leader or school superintendent, then you’re not smart enough to run it on democracy.  I absolutely believe that and I believe that any time the government moves to undercut local decision-making, it’s telling you: you’re too stupid to run a democracy. And I find that myself too often today and for those reasons Mr. Chairman I’ll be against this proposal.”

Commissioner Donalds must think the electorate is pretty stupid because several of her CRC proposals aim to bypass a community’s local control of their publicly funded schools:

  • Proposal 32: Eliminates the salaries of locally elected school board members.
  • Proposal 33: Eliminates a community’s ability to elect their superintendent.
  • Proposal 43: Imposes term limits on all district school boards.
  • Proposal 71: Creates alternate charter authorizers which could eliminate local control from the charter authorization process.

The erosion of local control and the stripping away of power from local school boards and communities is a common part of the “ed reform” plan to privatize public education in the name of “School Choice.” It appears that the elimination of locally elected school boards, or the complete bypassing of their oversight, is part of that agenda; every year the Florida legislature chips away at local school board power. Last session, for example, HB 7069 stripped school boards of their control of local tax revenue by prescribing the way they must share local revenue with local charter schools. HB7069, also, exempted charter schools from local land use and zoning requirements, giving new charter schools greater property rights than any other landowners, preempting the authority of local jurisdictions and eliminating local community participation on land use or zoning decisions that might affect their property values.

Former Governor Jeb Bush, a leading proponent of Ed reform and privatization, mocked the idea of local control during a recent Q&A session at his Foundation’s annual Education Reform Summit.  (You can watch his response at the Q&A at 3:00 here.) Bush was speaking about the idea that education should not be a partisan issue, urging the formation of broad left/right reform coalitions. He suggested that, currently, reform coalitions are “in tatters” and not as strong as coalitions opposing reform which he described in this way:

“…the reaction to reform, the reactionaries as I politely call them, on the left and the right that are opposed to any change and are basically defending the status quo under the guise of local control. Well my idea of local control is to have parents empowered to make choices for their children; that’s the… most local you can get.”

(For the record, for 2 decades, Jeb’s ed reform policies have wreaked havoc in Florida’s public schools. In Florida, Jebucation IS the status quo.)

There is no other circumstance where local control of tax dollars is left up to individual citizens, with virtually no oversight. Jeb’s mocking of the value of a local electorate’s control of their public schools and their locally generated tax dollars flies in the face of conservatism. Suggesting parents are smart enough to made important education decisions for their own children but too stupid to run a local democracy is extremely insulting to the electorate.

There are few things more important to a community than public education. Decisions regarding education should be made at the local, district level as much as possible. We trust the electorate to make local decisions regarding how to govern their local schools. We hope the FLCRC Commissioners will follow Commissioner Solari’s lead and stand up for the rights of local communities to retain local control of their public schools. Local schools, local voters, local children should equal local decision-making regarding the fate of their public schools.

Despite compelling testimony from many citizens, parents and superintendents, all opposed to Proposal 33 (NO ONE spoke in support), we are sorry to report that the Local Government committee reported favorably on both Proposals 33 and 43. These proposals will now go before the full commission, who will have to decide if they will continue to allow these attacks on local control of public education or if they, like Commissioner Solari, will fight against the homogenization of the State of Florida and protect local decision-making for our public schools.

2 Comments

  1. Former Trustee

    Appointments of superintendents by local school boards IN NO WAY take away local control.
    Appointments should be the the process in place.

    * An elected school board has the capability of appointing a qualified person for the job (are often more qualified to do so than the general electorate) and they can set the professional qualifications for the office.

    * VERY important: The candidates for superintendent are not limited by geographical area.

    * The salary can be established at the discretion of the board.

    * The time and efforts of an appointed superintendent can be spent doing the educational job. Elected superinendents run for office while they are running the schools.

    * Schools are really “closer to the people” when they can hold the elected school board completely responsible for the schools.

    * Appointing district superintendents helps to take schools out of
    partisan politics. The superintendency becomes a professional job, instead of political, under an appointed system.

    * An elected superintendent and an elected school board often claim different mandates from the people, causing confusion and conflict. Further, with an elected superintendent, responsibility is diffused, and people do not know who to hold accountable.

    * An appointed superintendent, held responsible to school board can reduce the potential for abuses of power while in office (e.g., appointment of friends or relatives to school district positions without review)

    1. Sue Kingery Woltanski

      Currently most small Florida counties elect their superintendent. Many of these counties (like Clay, for example) have had numerous referendums where voters have repeatedly decided against the appointed superintendent model. My own small county, Monroe, elected to go with an appointed superintendent several years ago. At the time, given the conditions in our district at that time, I supported the move to the appointed superintendent, for many of the reasons you outline in your comment. Still, I believe your arguments could and should be used to convince a community to LOCALLY decide what model works best for their school district.

      Removing a community’s ability to decide whether they want an elected or appointed superintendent, by definition, takes away local control. Just because you and I believe appointed superintendents are the way to go, does not mean that local communities shouldn’t be allowed to decide for themselves. There is no evidence that appointed superintendents have better outcomes that appointed ones. I will tell you that the biggest complaint about my current superintendent (the first to be appointed by our school board) is that the community perceives him as “aloof” and unresponsive to community needs. Whether this is because he was not elected, or merely because he is not a native (he was hired from Minnesota), the perception still remains.

      I trust local voters to make local decisions regarding their schools.

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