Orange school leaders worry about education bill, funding

Even as they touted the district’s success on Advanced Placement tests, Orange County school leaders said during the annual State of Schools event Wednesday they feared cuts in state funding and changes to laws that could hurt local students.

Orange leaders, along with public education advocates across the state, are encouraging Gov. Rick Scott to veto a major education bill and the state budget, saying employees are facing a year with no raises because of “political games” in Tallahassee.

That’s a problem because the state’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the country, and Florida faces a shortage of teachers, School Board Chairman Bill Sublette said.

“We’re having an extremely difficult time attracting teachers to the profession,” he said.

Sublette and School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said they don’t anticipate cuts in academic or extracurricular programs, largely because of an additional property tax that voters approved in 2014. Orange and other districts also say if Scott signs the education bill, it would drain district funds while benefiting private charter school management companies.

The education bill would also require 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary school students and eliminate the state’s standardized algebra 2 exam, two changes that education advocates generally support.

Richard Maladecki, the president of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, which organized the State of the Schools event, said the group is “very disappointed,” with the school funding proposal.

“We believe that cuts to public education today will hurt tomorrow’s work force,” Maladecki said.

Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, who voted for the controversial House Bill 7069, attended the Orange schools event. He said afterward what he heard Wednesday contradicts what he was told in Tallahassee, namely that teachers and school employees would have more opportunities for extra pay through the Best and Brightest program. The education bill would expand and alters the program, which rewards teachers partly on their old ACT or SAT scores.

“The last thing I want to do as a state legislator is [to] impact public education,” Miller said.

At the gathering, Jenkins and Sublette trumpeted the district’s accomplishments during the past year, including that more than a third of the 2016 graduates scored a level 3 or higher on at least one AP exam before they left high school. They discussed a program that will be introduced next year and will allow students and parents to log in on a desktop computer or mobile device and track academic progress, browse scholarships and submit college applications.

Jenkins also said that all of the district’s 19 high schools will have rubberized tracks within the next two years, replacing asphalt tracks. Only four of the campuses now have rubber tracks, which is better for athletes’ safety and…

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