Amendment requiring appointed school superintendents remains under consideration

By a narrow 4-3 vote a subcommittee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission voted down a proposed amendment which, if approved by voters, would have eliminated compensation for local school board members.

The proposed amendment had been the subject of considerable discussion in two consecutive Gulf County School Board meetings, with Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton strongly criticizing the amendment as well as another pertaining to school superintendents.

“This is a stunning win for School Board members,” said Chris Doolin, a lobbyist for the Florida School Boards Association after the CRC committee voted down the compensation amendment.

The second proposal concerning superintendents, which, if approved by voters, would have required all district school superintendents to be appointed by local school boards, was approved by the subcommittee by a similar 4-3 vote.

The superintendent amendment will go before the full CRC.

Norton has characterized the two proposed amendments as challenges from South Florida interests with little regard for how small rural school boards and districts operate.

The proposed amendment pertaining to compensation for school board members came from a board member in Collier County.

She was one of three members of the CRC education committee to vote for the amendment.

The CRC is currently in the midst of its every-20-years review of the state constitution.

Proposed amendments put forth by the CRC will move immediately to the November 2018 general election ballot.

The school board amendment would have prohibited compensation for any member of a local or state school board and would also apply to board of trustees in the community college and university systems.

The Florida School Boards Assocation, which provides training, support and advocacy on behalf of the state’s 67 school districts, argued the amendment unfairly targeted local school boards.

The FSBA noted that members on college and state boards are not compensated, so the amendment, in reality, only applied to local school boards.

Local school board members are paid based on a statutorily set formula based on population; in Gulf County the pay is roughly $25,000.

The FSBA also argued compensation for school board members should be a local option, not a state mandate, and would negatively impact the pool of potential candidates for a school board set.

The demands of time and energy from school board members, and the campaigning for the position, would hinder those not independently wealthy or facing financial challenges, the association argued.

In particular, the association noted, single parents who wished to serve would face significant challenges as would those who work multiple jobs or are the sole bread-winner in the household.

And given the involvement of school board members in local communities a good portion of their salaries goes to help local initiatives.

The amendment pertaining to school superintendents, if ultimately approved by voters, would impact roughly 40 school districts in Florida, the vast majority small, rural districts.

As reported in a survey of state school board assocations and several major Florida newspapers during CRC, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama are the only three states that have districts in which the school superintendent of schools is elected.

Of the roughly 14,500 school districts in the country, 99 percent have appointed superintendents.