Education bill further devolves power to trustees

The Florida House continued debate on a sweeping education bill Thursday, with the bill’s sponsor pleading with representatives to pass a substitute Senate bill and allow the chambers to work out details in conference.

“The Governor said pretty much this morning that we’ve got to complete this bill,” said Rep. Jerry Melvin, R-Fort Walton Beach, responding to Rep. Frederica Wilson’s question about the structure of such a conference.

HB 2017, co-sponsored by the Council for Lifelong Learning and Melvin, finalizes and updates revisions to the state education code initiated by the Florida Education Governance Reorganization Act of 2000. The legislation would solidify the transfer of power from the state Board of education to individual university boards of trustees.

Melvin asked members to consider SB 1564, which he said was virtually identical to the House version, excepting some minor technical amendments.

Minority Leader Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, asked Melvin why she should like the bill today if she didn’t like it yesterday and the day before.

“Because you have had time to mellow and to read it,” Melvin responded, eliciting scattered laughter from the chamber.

The 2001 Legislature hastened the restructuring of Florida’s K-20 system by abolishing the Board of Regents and authorizing the Governor to appoint university trustees and transitional Board of Education members.

This year’s continuation of the school code overhaul includes multiple clauses granting increased financial and administrative duties to the appointed university boards of trustees.

Universities would also be designated as public corporations, given title to property purchased with private funds and permitted to handle collective bargaining on a local level.

An example of how the changes would affect FAMU involves university reserve or carry forward funds.

At the last FAMU board of trustees meeting, trustee Joe Lacher described how the university normally operates with a five percent emergency reserve fund, kept for events such as fires, natural disasters or unforeseeen budget cuts. State university reserve funds cannot exceed five percent of a university’s total operating budget.