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House speaker's words strike controversy with public schools

Posted at 7:39 PM, Jun 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-13 19:57:24-04

Governor Rick Scott was in West Palm Beach on Tuesday, celebrating what he calls are major wins for Florida families and students.

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"We have a lot of things to brag about this session," he said during a press conference.

From more tourism dollars to dike repairs at Lake Okeechobee, the governor is touring the state to highlight what he calls are budget victories, now that the legislative session is finished.

One of his biggest brags involves education. He's touting an extra $215 million for K-12 education this year, which equates to 100 dollars per student at public schools.

"If you travel the state like I do people care about a few things: job, kids and grandkids to have a good education, and they want to make sure everyone is safe," he said.

All session, districts across the state have pressed Gov. Scott on money. Palm Beach County schools Superintendent. Dr. Robert Avossa said that Florida still ranks low in per pupil funding. He spoke out on our morning show last week.

"Our schools are already among the least funded in the nation and this is not a recession budget, but it feels like it," he said. "There's upward of $400 million that's being allocated to special pet projects that were managed behind closed doors, without giving us an opportunity to weigh in."

The district says the $100 per pupil funding does nothing to offset the $230 million deficit districts will experience over 10 years.

When asked Gov. Scott about that concern, he recounted how the state lost nearly 1 million jobs in the four years before he took office.

"There wasn't more money for education. Now, where are we? We have record funding for K-12 education," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to fund education in our state."

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is also touring the state with Gov. Scott, chimed in to answer our question.

"I don't want to sound too passionate but I think that the districts need to fix themselves. I think the problem with them is not the record amount of funding that we've done at the state level, the problem is they continually persist to build $40 million Taj Mahals," he said. "And I've got news for them, they need to be focus on building beautiful minds, not beautiful buildings."

It's that response that has our local school district fired up.

"I think it's disingenuous," said Dr. Avossa. "Local school boards collect nearly 70 percent of the funding right at home and only 30 percent comes from the state, so in my opinion, there's an overreach. There's too much micromanaging."

We shared sent a clip of our interview to Superintendent Avossa, who is out of town for an principal award ceremony in Orlando. In an exclusive videophone interview, Dr. Avossa expressed his frustration by comparing school district public meetings with the decisions made during the legislative session.

"What you saw this year was an abomination for our state," he said. "Three individuals got to decide almost 90 percent of what happens in this state closed doors, behind the scenes. That doesn't happen in the public school system because all of our meetings are online, we take copious notes and everything is in the sunshine."

Avossa added, "We were promised by the heads of all of these departments and divisions in the state that this would be the most transparent year in Florida history and in fact, in my opinion, it will go down as one of the worst."

During the press conference, Corcoran went on to site Tampa area schools as an example of extravagant spending.

"Bloated administration, inefficiencies and debt. Those are all man created by their own organizations and their own leadership...They have less students than Broward County and they have 1,500 more employees," said Corcoran. "They need to start running their districts the way we run our state.

Dr. Avossa argues that any improvements to schools are local taxes people vote on.

"The 1.5 mills are local dollars. If folks like the buildings that we build, they support us, we see that happening. This school system has been very conservative in their approach and we're going to continue to do so in the future," he said. "There's always room for improvement. Last year I cut $5.5 million out of central office and pushed it right back out to the schools."

Education leaders are also continuing to push the governor to veto house bill 7069, which gives more funding to charter schools. A major proponent of the bill is speaker Corcoran.

"It's difficult to say we're overspending then on the other hand, being OK with spending dollars on private buildings that will be owned by individuals and not the public" said Dr. Avossa. "So if a charter school goes belly up, the building that they purchased with public money is going to be transferred over to a private person."