New state education team given budget, code, organization priorities
By Mindy Hagen
In efforts to streamline the state's education system, the new Florida Board of Education identified designing a budget, rewriting the school code and creating a more organized department of education as its three most immediate tasks.
The board's seven members, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in June, oversee the state's K-12 schools, 11 universities and 28 community colleges. Serving as the central body for education in Florida, the board replaced a board of regents and community college board and plans to co-exist with university trustees.
Former state senator Jim Horne, named education secretary by Gov. Bush, said he is helping the board focus its strategy. At the first meeting of all its members Monday and Tuesday at Palmetto High School, Mr. Horne said the time has come for the board to begin tackling the state's important education issues.
"There is a new sheriff in town. We have a new mission ahead of us," he said. "We need to set forth now the changes that will effect how this body does business for years to come."
The board's first challenge, Mr. Horne said, is developing a 2002-03 fiscal budget seen as realistic by the state legislature. The board must recommend a budget to the governor by Aug. 31. Mr. Horne said the short time frame means the board will not be able to fundamentally change the way the budget is done.
"The month or so we have left doesn't give us an opportunity to change the way we want to build a budget," he said. "In the future we will make more changes and give it a thorough look.This is an awkward time because we don't have the benefit of meeting for six months beforehand to develop a strategic plan."
Board member Linda Eads, a founding principal of MAST Academy in Miami and a school district adviser, said she still thinks the board can bring about change with this timetable.
"We have a window to make modifications to the system," she said. "This is our opportunity to make suggestions to rid the budget of duplications costing the education system more money."
In its budget, the board would propose the allocation of the state's educational resources to the K-12 sector, universities and community colleges. Last year K-12 received $14.3 billion, or 68% of the funding; universities were given $2.8 billion, or 14%, and community colleges got $1.14 billion, or 6% of the allocation.
Board Chairman F. Philip Handy, a Republican investor from Winter Park selected by Gov. Bush, said he encourages the board to carefully weigh allocating the resources in its budget proposal.
"We must have a sense of priorities," Mr. Handy said. "Effectively and intelligently spending the money needs to be the issue of the day."
In another major task, the board must review changes to the school code, a set of laws governing education in the state. John Winn, assistant secretary of education, has appointed a work force group of 15 to 20 individuals involved in the school system to re-do the code, but the board has final say.
Mr. Winn said the code can be presented in a more organized and user-friendly way by reducing "overly prescriptive provisions and statutes."
At the board's next meeting in September, Mr.Winn will give an update on the work force group's progress. The main decision facing the board, he said, is to authorize a complete rewrite of the code versus asking to simply rearrange some of the chapters.
The board will also begin work on reorganizing the education department, which Mr. Horne said would be "a major undertaking." Mr. Horne said he wants to hire a consultant to assist in the process and would solicit bids from interested firms.
"The goal is to present the board with an implementation plan within five months," Mr. Horne said. "I want to meet with university presidents and community college boards about what they want the new department to look like. Customer satisfaction is critical in evaluating the department's role."
In addition to Chairman Handy and Ms. Eads, the five other board members are: T. Willard Fair, founder of Miami's Liberty City charter school and chief executive of Greater Miami's Urban League; Charles Patrick Garcia, a White House fellow under President Reagan and businessman from Boca Raton; Julia Johnson, an Orlando attorney; William Proctor, former president of St. Augustine's Flagler College, and Carolyn Roberts, a former member of the board of regents from Ocala.