Tallahassee’s tall Turlington Building is home to the Florida Department of Education. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The State Board of Education has withheld $208,800 from eight Florida school boards, targeting the salaries of board members as compensation for their work as elected officials, and depriving them of income.
Here’s the breakout of state funds withheld from school board members in October, according to the State Department of Education:
/Alachua — $16,786 (5 members)
/Brevard — $18,587 (5 members)
/Broward — $35,080 (9 members)
/Duval — $26,770 (7 members)
/Leon — $17,199 (5 members)
/Miami-Dade — $35,392 (9 members)
/Orange — $31,459 (8 members)
/Palm Beach — $27,527 (7 members)
And that’s the beginning of an effort to dock pay because eight of the school boards in Florida wanted to require masks to protect children. Each month, the state expects to dock pay until the local boards comply with the DeSantis administration on mask policies.
On Oct. 7, the State Board determined that eight districts violated Florida law and a Department of Health emergency rule for placing strict mask mandates in schools instead of leaving that decision up to parents, and decided to punish those boards.
Two boards, Alachua and Broward, have been docked pay since August. This week, those two boards plus the six others were penalized.
The sanctions are the result of an ongoing debate over who has authority of how schools operate: local school boards, the executive branch, or parents.
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 penalized with sanctions argued that their strict mask policies protect children and staff from COVID-19.
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.
In another financial punishment, the Department of Education also withheld state funds this week related to federal grants given to Alachua and Broward counties. The department withheld state funds equal to that grant money. Alachua’s amount was $147,719; Broward, $420,957.
The federal grants were designed to cover school board pay that was docked.
The U.S. Department of Education recently has criticized Florida for withholding those state funds equal to the federal grants.
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