School District’s Lobbyist Recounts Wins And Losses In Tallahassee

Palm Beach County School District lobbyist Vern Pickup-Crawford reported Monday to the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board on successes and failures as they relate to education during the recent legislative session in Tallahassee.

“The legislature adjourned on May 2. Your property, your spouse, is now safe for another nine-and-a-half months before they go back into session next year,” Pickup-Crawford said. “The overriding issue we really had this time, and this being an election year, really was the election. Most of what was done for education, and for almost every other function of the state, had some ramification in terms of the election coming up.”

He said the school district had some success getting time to transition to new school accountability requirements.

“We were really pushing to have a three-year transition to meet the changes that are going to occur in state assessment and testing,” Pickup-Crawford said, explaining that the state gave school districts a one-year pass before it uses state data to determine school financing. “School grades will continue on, but they know and we know that school grades are probably not going to have as much meaning as they have in the past.”

A new “FCAT 2.0” testing used this year measured last year’s standards rather than this year’s, he explained.

“Next year, we are going to a new exam,” Pickup-Crawford said. “We don’t know what it will look like. It is being field-tested in the State of Utah, which is interesting, but it will be done roughly in April or May.”

The results will not be out until November 2015, which is nine weeks into the following school session. “School grades will be either not measuring what we’re teaching this year, or next year they’re going to come out nine weeks into the following year, but the school grades are not going away,” he said.

As for capital outlays, the school district will receive about $3 million toward school maintenance and repairs for the first time in four years, out of a total $50 million appropriation.

“We’ve had to bear the cost of that locally since 2009-10,” Pickup-Crawford said. “This time the state is getting back into the game, and it will provide a little bit of relief.”

The school district lobbied unsuccessfully to get money for a sixth period.

Attempts to get more fiscal accountability for charter schools also met with no success.

“At the beginning of this fiscal year, the school board was faced with having to close down, on an emergency basis, a couple of charter schools, partly for financial reasons,” he said. “Parents get very upset about that. All we were looking for was some assurance. We will probably come back to that next year.”

The school district was also unsuccessful in getting financing and flexibility for school districts to provide proper psychological and sociological assistance to students, and to provide parenting skills for parents.

“Unfortunately, we did not get any increase in the Safe Schools appropriation,” Pickup-Crawford said. “That amount still remains at what it was in 2007 statewide. That is one issue we want to try to pursue again next year.”

Equally important to what did pass was what did not pass. “This is where we play defense a lot,” he said.

One item that died in the State Senate was charter school legislation that would have created a mandatory standard contract and expanded corporate charter systems substantially, he said, explaining that they wanted to be sure that there were provisions in those schools for students with special needs and students with disabilities.

“Again, we had fiscal concerns about making sure that they had money in the bank,” Pickup-Crawford said. “The other part of it was this particular bill took on a life of its own. It wound up almost pitting the large charter corporate companies, the for-profit companies, against the independent individual charter schools, because it favored expansion of the large corporate charters coming in from out of state.”

So-called “pack and carry” legislation authorizing a designated person to carry a concealed weapon and use it in a police action or shooting on campus also did not pass.

“We argued vociferously against that legislation,” Pickup-Crawford said. “We’ve got a very good relationship with our police departments, whether it’s the municipal police departments or the school police itself.”

He added that there are some rural districts that don’t have school police, where such a policy might be warranted.