Department of Education oversight more like overreach

On the front page of Community we shared images of Holley Navarre Primary School students excitedly playing on newly purchased playground equipment for the first time. At a school where the student population has blown past projected growth and threatens to overflow capacity, providing enough space for children to play required a big investment.

That investment was secured largely through fundraising donations.

As Navarre High School and its championship winning sports program continues to grow, plans are underway to build a new concession stand to meet unexpected increased demand.

Holley Navarre Middle School underwent a massive expansion of their cafeteria facilities last school year to allow for more students to eat lunch at one time and for larger meals to be prepared on-site. The resulting time gained not scheduling lunches allowed the school to implement a program that resulted in record setting reading among students.

All of these projects have two things in common. One, they are a result of the ever increasing population of Navarre. Two, they required the school district to utilize alternative, locally generated funding sources.

In November (long after school district budgets’ have been set), the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) came out in a memorandum telling school districts that FDOE has direct oversight for every penny for capital outlay (meaning construction, remodeling and repair), regardless of funding source – donations, local sales tax and gifts.

That means every half penny from the local option sales tax. That means every dime of school district general budget funds set aside. That means every penny of donations made by private entities and nonprofits.

Every penny has to be approved for use by FDOE roughly five years in advance of it being spent as part of the educational plant survey for the school district – even if it is local money approved by our local voters.

Their reasoning is in the lengthy education bill that was passed by state legislators last session. In this bill all capital outlays were now required to fall under per student spending caps. It is called a “per student station” cap that basically controls how much can be spent on construction based on how many students are at a facility.

In the memo FDOE asserts that the expansion of this regulation gives them authority to regulate these dollars, not just ensure districts remain under the cap.

FDOE’s decision is an overreach of government. Just because the law puts added pressure for frugal spending of funds does not mean the state needs to control every penny.

It is a pretty steep stretch in logic to be frank.

Under these circumstances, why would we even bother having a school board?  Is frugal administration of school district resources not one of the primary reasons we have an elected body of Santa Rosa County residents meeting each month on our behalf?

Already massive amounts of school district budgets are tied up in lagging five year plans from educational plant surveys.

Santa Rosa School district consistently has stayed under cost per student station caps, so why do we need this “oversight.”

The answer is we do not. Let the school district continue to make its own decisions on the spending of locally generated funds and let the local voters be the ones to decide whether those decisions are just, not state employees.

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