By B.C. Manion
Class-size restrictions for Florida’s public schools will stay the same.
Changes to local land-use plans will continue to be made by elected officials and campaign financing will go on for candidates for statewide elective office who agree to campaign spending limits.
Florida voters rejected constitutional amendments that would have changed those things.
But voters approved constitutional amendments that will affect the way lines are drawn for legislative and congressional districts and approved a new tax exemption for military personnel serving in areas designated by the Legislature.
Voters rejected Amendment 8, a proposal that would have increased maximum class sizes in Florida public schools and would have given schools greater flexibility in meeting those requirements.
Pasco Schools Superintendent Heather Fiorentino and State Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, each expressed disappointment about the outcome of the class size vote.
“Of course it has us concerned,” Fiorentino said. “We definitely wanted to have some flexibility,” she said.
Accommodating the limits required a significant amount of disruption that will continue, Fiorentino said.
“John Long (Middle School) made more than 200 schedule changes,” Fiorentino said, and that’s just one school.
Many elementary school children also had to be moved into new classes in order to comply with class size caps, she said.
School districts must have more flexibility, Fiorentino said.
Although they failed to muster the 60 percent needed to pass the class size amendment, a majority of voters are opposed to the current class size limits, Weatherford said.
The caps force the state to spend money to preserve small classes at the expense of providing a 21st century brand of education for students, Weatherford said. “This comes with a price.”
But Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, said voters sent legislators a clear message on this issue. She said voters are telling lawmakers:
“Start listening to the people. We passed this. We’ve given you our opinion a number of times. Don’t cheat the children.”
Weatherford was much happier with the outcome on Amendment 4, which voters rejected. That would have required voters to approve changes to the land-use plan.
“Everyone recognized that Hometown Democracy was a terrible amendment,” Weatherford said.
Supporters of Amendment 4 claimed it would help protect the environment and help prevent suburban sprawl and congestion. Opponents said it would damage the state’s economy and cost jobs.
Bob Hunter, executive director for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, said “in local government, we sort of dodged the bullet. We had not really evaluated the impact it was going to cause, if it had passed. But it was going to be substantial, not only the delays but the cost of it.”
However, Hunter added, “This is not to be cast aside cavalierly.”
The fact that the issue made it onto the ballot and that it garnered so much support should send a message to elected leaders that there needs to be more community buy-in on long-range planning decisions, Hunter said. If that doesn’t happen, Hunter said, “This will rise again.”
Weatherford said adoption of Amendment 5 and Amendment 6 was unfortunate.
The amendments say that legislative and congressional districts may not be drawn to favor an incumbent or political party, and that they must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.
Weatherford said the amendments were backed by special interests and were sold under the guise of fairness. But he thinks the result of the amendments will be to take the authority of redrawing the lines away from the Legislature and to give it to the courts.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, which joined the coalition that backed the amendments, claimed they will end gerrymandering – the practice of drawing voting district lines to give an unfair advantage to one political party.
Voters also approved Amendment 2, which provides an additional homestead property tax break for Floridians serving in the military to support operations in overseas areas designated by the Legislature. The amount of the exemption will be based on the length of time the person was deployed. The amendment takes effect on Jan. 1.
Amendment 2: Provides additional property tax relief for residents deployed to select overseas areas.
Amendments 5/6: Require changes to the way legislative and congressional boundaries are drawn.
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