Putting Education Reform To The Test

Gov. Rick Scott: Fund School Reforms With Savings

Gov. Rick Scott has launched an August Charm Offensive, serving doughnuts to voters and attempting to build a relationship with state media. Scott stopped by WUSF radio in Tampa Friday as part of his three-day visit to the city.

Scott touched on the economy, the state budget and other issues, but was also asked how schools can add state-mandated programs such as teacher pay-for-performance if the state will not fund them? Scott’s answer: Find a way.

“We’ve got to figure out how to do better,” Scott said. “We did the things that should help our kids.

“We spend the money on instruction, not administration. That’s where the focus has to be.”

School districts addressed this issue Tuesday at a special state Board of Education budget summit.

How administrative costs are calculated varies — board member Akshay Desai wants to create an official calculation — but school districts at Tuesday’s meeting claimed administrative expenses well under 10 percent of their budget.

Districts outlined a number of ways they have cut costs, including squeezing recession-desperate businesses for larger discounts on district contracts.

Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said her district has cut or redirected $170 million in administrative costs since 2007, but that per student funding has declined by $1,000. Hillsborough can not fund reform efforts with administrative savings, Elia said, because the district is trying to keep its head above water.

“Money saved is being used to cover costs and not innovate,” Elia said.

Teachers are typically a district’s largest expense. The estimated cost of merit pay plans varies, but the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association said this week they believe that total teacher salaries would increase by more than 30 percent under the program they are currently developing with a Gates Foundation grant. Other state districts are using a federal Race To The Top grant to develop merit pay plans.


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