Tallahassee’s tall Turlington Building is home to the Florida Department of Education. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the male-dominated State Board of Education will soon make a call on punishing local school boards — such as docking board pay — over strict mask mandates.
Who will lose money? Mostly women.
In the ongoing battle regarding masks and who controls Florida public schools, women will be hurt most, because females elected by voters make up most of the school board seats in the state.
Of 55 school board members who risk withholding pay over the mask mandate controversy, 47 are women and just eight are men, the Florida Phoenix found.
But the education officials making those decisions are largely male. The State Board of Education consists of five men and two women. Those members do not get salaries. Commissioner Corcoran, who oversees Florida’s massive public education system, is a man and he is compensated for the job.
At a meeting scheduled for Thursday, the state education officials will decide whether school boards are complying with state law and rules regarding mask policies. The policies of 11 school districts are on the agenda, with eight districts having mask mandates that do not have a parental opt-out.
Three districts scheduled on the agenda have since loosened their policies and allow for parental opt-outs of mask requirements. It’s not clear what the state will do with those districts.
The DeSantis administration has been adamant about providing a parental opt-out and wants to leave the decision for students to wear masks at school up to parents, citing Florida law and a new emergency Department of Health rule to protect what they call “parents’ rights” to direct the upbringing of their children.
But the Florida Constitution authorizes school boards to oversee the operation of their local schools. The eight districts with strict mask policies argue that their mandates are to protect children and staff from COVID-19.
Corcoran has recommended that school boards with mask mandates that do not offer parental opt-outs should lose their pay, and might lose additional state funds.
The potential salary cuts are similar to a debate in the spring Legislature, when legislation on cutting the salaries of school board members raised questions about sexism. The bill removed the language on salary cuts.
According to a September report from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR), school board salaries vary based on the population of the district, ranging from about $27,700 in more rural districts to about $47,000 in more populous districts.
State education officials have already docked the salaries of Alachua and Broward school board members, which were the first districts to place strict mask mandates that only allow students to opt-out of masks for documented medical reasons, and not leave the choice up to parents.
Here’s a break out of what’s on the line for the eight districts:
/Alachua School board salary (3 women, 2 men): $40,730
/Broward (nine women, zero men): $47,189
/Brevard (four women, one man): $44,609
/Duval (five women, two men): $47,072
/Leon (four women, one man): $41,278
/Miami-Dade (eight women, one man): $47,189
/Orange (eight women, zero men): $47,189
/Palm Beach (six women, one man): $47,189
To put the potential financial loss into perspective, here is a rough estimate of what it would look like if the State Board of Education were to dock the yearly salary of every member on school boards that still have strict mask mandates. The Phoenix analysis is based on the EDR salary data.
Overall, the state would withhold roughly $2,519,826 from those eight districts.
The women’s share of that $2.5 million would be about $2.16 million or about 86 percent.
In contrast, the men on these school boards would lose about $355,869 or about 14 percent.
However, not every school board member overseeing those eight districts voted in favor of strict mask mandates, and it is not clear if these members would be spared from the state’s penalty.
A new grant program from the Biden administration complicates the analysis further, as the U.S. Department of Education is providing reimbursement to school districts facing penalties from the state for implementing mask mandates that comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The school boards of Alachua and Broward have already been awarded grant funds from this initiative.
Corcoran recently recommended that the state board not only dock the salaries of school boards that implement strict mask mandates, but also state funding equal to any federal grant awarded to districts to supplement the lost pay, meaning that even more money could be withheld by the state if these school boards do not change their strict mask policies.
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