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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013 4 years ago

OUR VIEW: How districts compare


Everyone likes to see how he compares to his peers.

That’s especially so in education. It’s no mystery, then, why consumers see so many publications produce national rankings of colleges and universities.

So it is locally and among the states. Parents love to see how their child’s public school ranks compared to the schools across town. Or, how their district ranks compared to all of the districts in the state.

In that vein, the table at right shows how the students in Florida’s 67 public school districts and a few independent districts performed this past school year on the state standardized tests.

Sarasota County is a star — one of seven districts whose students’ cumulative scores earned the district an A.

Manatee County? No so good — a C.

The Manatee School District ranked 43rd among the 71 districts ranked — below the median.

As you browse the accompanying list looking for patterns or regions where the schools may be better or worse than elsewhere in Florida, it would be difficult to reach many conclusions.

Of course, at the bottom of the list, it’s probably no surprise that every one of the “D” and “F” school districts — a dozen altogether, are predominantly rural and among Florida’s poorer counties. The median income in Madison County, for instance, is $36,557; and the high school graduation rate among its adult population is 76%. That compares with a median income of $64,153 and high-school graduation rate of 92.5% in St. Johns County, a suburban county south of Jacksonville that includes Ponte Vedra and the city of St. Augustine.

At the other end of the spectrum, among the “A” school districts, it’s probably not surprising to see that three of the districts are located in affluent suburban areas — St. Johns, mentioned above; the Sarasota County School District, arguably somewhat of a suburban Tampa Bay district; and Seminole County School District, which abuts Orlando and Orange County.

Santa Rosa County School District isn’t too much of a surprise, either. It draws many of its students from the military families at the Air Force and Naval bases near Pensacola.

And you might expect the university laboratory schools — Florida State University Lab School and the Florida Atlantic University Lab School, both in the college-town and state-government city of Tallahassee, to be among the best-performing schools.

But the anomaly among the “A” school districts is tiny and rural Gilchrist County School District, with only four schools and total enrollment of 2,700 students. The two high schools are combined middle and high schools.

Gilchrist is so small it has only one traffic light in the county and has no four-lane roads. One of its big events of the year is the annual Suwanee Valley Quilt Festival in March. Its superintendent is a 1982 graduate of one of the county high schools.

Clearly, this district’s families take pride in their schools. And it proves that more money is not the answer to a great education. Look at the table above and compare the total per-student spending of Gilchrist County versus Sarasota County. Remarkable.

+ Message to businesses
Sarasota City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo’s announcement last week that he intends to leave the City Commission to run for the Sarasota County Commission should send an alarming message to business leaders.

For that matter, it should send an alarming message to city of Sarasota homeowners, as well.

Caragiulo, as he is wont to do, did not mince words last week when he spoke to this newspaper about his decision. We’ll say he probably was more diplomatic than he might otherwise be, but his message was succinct.

Plain and simple, he said he wants to leave the City Commission because county commissioners have a much more welcoming attitude toward economic investment than do the city commissioners.

We’ll be blunter than Caragiulo: There is no point trying to work with city commissioners who chase away and block economic growth at every turn.

And now it’s an unbeatable block of obstructionists — Vice Mayor Willie Shaw, Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman and, to a slightly lesser extent, Mayor Shannon Snyder.

For Sarasota’s business leaders, here’s the idea to ponder: While there are many, many business owners who want to see Sarasota become a place that keeps its young and develops a more robust economy, much of the ability to attract investment will hinge on government’s acceptance of investment.

Caragiulo gets that. Without him, there’ll be no one. The city needs commissioners who understand business and economics. Otherwise, Sarasota is destined to go nowhere.

Click here to see a breakdown of school district grades.

Click here to see a comparison of Sarasota and Gilchrist counties. 

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