School board politics and pay under consideration by Florida lawmakers

by | Jan 21, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — House Republicans again are seeking to nix school board members’ salaries, but a proposal filed this year goes much further by increasing scrutiny of the way library books and other school materials are selected.

The proposal up for consideration during the 2022 legislative session comes after lawmakers last year refused to sign off on a measure that would have scrapped school board members’ pay.

This year’s bill also puts the selection of books and instructional materials, as well as class reading lists, under increased review and ramps up public involvement in the process.

The proposal (HB 1467) approved by the House Education & Employment Committee in a 13-7 vote Thursday would require schools to post information about the selection of books and instructional materials on their websites.

Rep. Sam Garrison, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the bill, said the measure is aimed at increasing parents’ access to materials their children could encounter in classrooms.

“This bill is about providing parents the comfort, and quite frankly the transparency, to have confidence that, when they drop their kids off at school, when they drop their kids off at the school library, they don’t have to stress about the other stuff. They know what’s going on,” Garrison said.

Parental involvement in education has become a cause célèbre for Republicans throughout the country, with DeSantis — who is widely considered as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 — leading the charge on the issue.

Under the bill, school districts would be required to publish procedures for developing library media-center collections. Procedures would have to include, in part, a process that allows for the “regular removal or discontinuance of books” based on criteria such as materials’ alignment with state standards and out-of-date content.

On websites searchable by the public, school districts would be required to keep a list of all instructional materials. Elementary schools would have to publish lists of all books and materials in library media centers.

The legislation also seeks to give the public increased input on how library and classroom books are chosen.

Committees that advise school boards on the “ranking, eliminating, or selecting” of books and other learning materials would be required to include parents and other community members. Meetings of the committees would have to be publicly noticed.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, expressed skepticism about people from outside of a county injecting input into local school districts’ materials.

“We’ve had a situation in Orange County with folks coming to school board meetings that either don’t live in Orange County or don’t have kids” in the district, Eskamani said. “Do those folks get the same leverage in dictating complaints … compared to legitimate parents?”

“If an individual who lives in Maine wants to fly down to Clay County because he or she really cares about knowing what’s going on in the curriculum, they have the ability to come and observe,” Garrison responded.

The bill also makes clear that members of the public could copy, scan or photograph any instructional materials used in a school district.

During Thursday’s committee meeting, critics blasted the provision in the bill that would do away with school board members’ pay.

Democrats argued that the proposal would lead to individuals who lack resources being shut out of school board membership, resulting in independently wealthy people controlling local school districts.

Currently, school board salaries are based on a formula that includes county populations. They range this year from $26,965 in Liberty County to $47,189 in Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach counties, according to a House staff analysis.

Chris Doolan, who represents the Small School District Council Consortium, argued that the onus on school board members warrants a salary.

“For school board members, it is a tough time right now. It’s very divisive. School board members have tremendous responsibilities, with hundreds of statutory requirements,” Doolan said.

But Garrison echoed arguments made last year when he promoted similar legislation.

Doing away with salaries would bring Florida closer to the “majority of school board members nationally” who don’t receive pay, Garrison argued Thursday.

“It’s about parents, not politicians. I want to get the politics out of it,” Garrison said. “We want to make sure our schools are focused on parental engagement and parental involvement, by eliminating, quite frankly, the financial incentive for politicians to want to use this as an opportunity to be a launching pad to a political career.”

Garrison also suggested that the money saved by cutting salaries of “school board politicians” could be used to fund positions for media specialists, who under the bill would be required to approve books for library collections and reading lists.

The bill, which lacks a Senate companion, appears to be on the fast track in the House.

After making it out of its first committee on Thursday, the proposal only faces one more committee before it can be considered by the full House.


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