CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS; One to Watch

Article excerpt

The most dangerous proposal on the ballot Tuesday is Amendment 9, the classroom size proposal.

The cost is staggering; the benefits minute.

Support for it is dropping precipitously as voters learn the facts.

It is advertised as a measure to help public schools. But the state's school superintendents oppose the measure.

Even with the creative accounting used by proponents, the cost is substantial. But the true cost through 2010, put at $29 billion by the Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement, is disproportional by any measure.

Deduct federal funds and trust funds, and the state budget is $20.7 billion. Without cutting education or health and human services, there is $4.4 billion available.

Virtually every other state function, from the highway patrol to environmental protection would have to be eliminated -- or taxes would have to be raised substantially.

School districts essentially have a choice when they get more state money: hire new teachers, reducing class sizes, or increase pay for existing teachers. Money for new facilities comes from capital outlay funds or local funds.

Most North Florida districts have done the responsible thing: hire enough new teachers and give all teachers fair pay raises. Jacksonville has built 20 schools in the past 15 years, and starting teacher salaries are above the national average.

Dade and Broward counties have the highest teacher salaries in the state -- and the most crowded schools.

In 1988, Dade voters approved $980 million for school construction, promising to build 49 schools. Barely half the work has been done and, with additional money that has come in, $1 billion remains available for construction, the mayor of Surfside says. Yet, Dade wants state money to build schools.

Broward voters in 1995 rejected a local sales tax for school construc- tion by 71 percent to 29. Soon after, South Florida legislators began blaming the GOP for not solving their problem.

Amendment 9 is so bad that the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce has recommended voting against all of the amendments, rather than risking confusion and voting for it inadvertently.

We strongly recommend voting no on Amendment 9.

Amendment 3 is a sneaky proposal. It mentions home rule, which most people favor. Actually it is the opposite.

The measure would force a vote in Dade County on amending the local charter to allow questions to be placed on the ballot by the Legislature. But referenda already can be put to a vote by the county commission, citizen initiative or a charter review commission. Approval by the state's voters simply would force an expensive election in Dade.

Passage of the amendment would set a bad precedent. The Miami- Dade County Commission opposes it because it would weaken home rule. Lawmakers in Pensacola, Tampa and Jacksonville have no business placing issues on the Miami-Dade County ballot.

The Miami state representative who proposed this idea is now out of office and has dropped his campaign for the proposal. …