Monday, October 23, 2017

Lee Schools join HB 7069 lawsuit; no decision from Collier


The Lee County School District is moving forward with plans to take legal action against the state over the controversial education bill HB 7069, with the school board voting to sue the state on Tuesday.

Superintendent Gregory Adkins has been joined by many of the board’s members in vocally opposing the legislation which they have characterized as a bill that could devastate education funding. Board Member Steven Teuber said that while he generally preferred to avoid litigation he believes that if the public understood how the bill would allocate funds to charter schools they would support the legal challenge.

“I am not a fan of school districts or entities suing the state and I don’t like extra litigation for the taxpayers, but I think if every taxpayer understands that their taxpayer dollars are going to go to for-profit companies taken away from students in public facilities, they would understand,” said Teuber.

Board Attorney Keith Martin recommended that Lee join the two other districts, Broward and St. Lucie, who have already voted to sue the state because he believed that HB 7069 violated the Florida Constitution.

“It is my opinion that multiple provisions of that bill violate the constitutional authority of local school boards to operate, control, and supervise all public schools in the district,” Martin said.

Teuber agreed saying that he strongly objected to the loss of local control the bill represented.

“It is the most usurpation of school board control that I think I have ever witnessed,” Teuber said.

Martin said that while only two other districts had formally voted to pursue legal action a number had recently put the issue on their meeting agendas for discussion and he expected more to join the suit in the coming months.

While Lee was deliberating, they became one of three districts to join in the suit on Tuesday alone, as the district schools boards for Bay and Volusia Counties also voted in favor of legal action. Miami-Dade is expected to come to a decision Wednesday.

Down in Collier, the board did not formally discuss the lawsuit, but that didn’t stop members of the public from weighing in.

Some, like Beth Pavlow of the Coalition for Quality Public Education, urged the district to join the suit, arguing that the bill violated the state’s constitution by covering multiple issues, and its creation of the Schools of Hope charter program.

“The Coalition for Quality Public Education encourages you to join other Florida school districts in challenging the constitutionality of HB 7069,” Pavlow said. “The bill circumvents the constitutional mandate that public school districts control, supervise, and operate all schools in their district.”

Others, like Naples resident Joseph Doyle, supported the law.

“Quite frankly, we need to do more for charter schools,” Doyle said. “Parents have the right to school choice, and they should have the money follow the child.”

The law’s provisions on charter school funding and its full impact wasn’t discussed in detail, but board vice chair Erika Donalds estimated that it would send about $4 million in property tax revenues to charters in Collier County.

In board member communications at the end of the meeting, members appeared mixed on the matter.

“I don’t agree with that kind of distraction on our district,” Donalds said, who along with board member Kelly Lichter appeared opposed to the suit. “I don’t agree with taking this discussion any further.”

Board chair Roy Terry said the issue deserves further discussion from the board before a decision is made. Collier next meets on Aug. 8.

The lawsuit is currently a joint venture so the cost would be divided between all the districts that participate. The Lee board’s unanimous vote to move forward with the legal action authorized the district to initially spend up to $25,000 on the case.

R.J. Roan contributed to this report.

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