Several Florida school districts are suing the state over a bill that was passed this summer, but Sarasota board members agree — it's not the best use of the county's time and money.
The Sarasota County School Board voted unanimously not to join in a lawsuit against the state for passing legislation that will direct tax dollars to charter schools, among other changes, though some board members were quick to explain they still don't support the bill.
Last month, the Broward County School District voted to file a lawsuit against the state legislature over the bill, and has since asked other counties in the state to consider joining. At this point, four other counties have joined the suit.
As each board member spoke at the meeting Aug. 1, several expressed personal disapproval of House Bill 7069, the way it was passed and what it would mean for the district. But all five board members agreed that getting involved in the legal suit would not be the best allocation of time and resources for Sarasota County.
“Sarasota County has an opportunity to send a message that we are above the political feeder, and that we are committed and focused,” said Vice Chair Bridget Ziegler. “All too often in government, precious time and money are spent debating areas where we disagree.”
HB 7069, which was signed by Rick Scott this summer, mandates that school districts share millions in tax dollars with charter schools, outlines a plan that would put charter schools in areas to compete with struggling schools and puts in place daily recess for elementary school students (but not charter school students), among a host of other things.
Board member Shirley Brown agreed with Ziegler, after outlining issues she had with how the bill was passed.
“I feel that it probably has some merit, but I don’t think it would serve the board well to join at this time,” Brown said.
Board member Jane Goodwin raised concerns about “souring” the Sarasota School Board against local delegates, and Eric Robinson, another board member, agreed, cautioning that the lawsuit is a “poke in the eye” to an organization the board will likely be asking for favors in the future.
“It saddens me that we spend all our time on this political theater,” Robinson added. “I really do not support spending our money in the courtrooms instead of the classrooms.”
Board Chair Caroline Zucker was particularly vocal about opposing the bill itself.
“We already give charter schools $9 million,” she said. “We weren’t asked to do that… we did that because they’re our students.”
Zucker also pointed out that the district needs to build a new school, but will not have the funding to do so with the implementation of this bill.
“Should we go enter a lawsuit? Probably not. I am upset by this, yes, because I am left with no choice. If I do vote to join the lawsuit, I’m penalized by the legislators. And if I don’t vote for it, the schools and the children are penalized.”
In the end, the board voted unanimously not to join the litigation against the bill.