Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Barnes, Schrenko at Odds on Math Partisanship Colors View of How Schools Affected

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Barnes, Schrenko at Odds on Math Partisanship Colors View of How Schools Affected

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Policy disagreement between Republican Superintendent Linda Schrenko and Democrat Gov. Roy Barnes is understandable. But their math calculations don't agree either.

Her figures show local districts will lose tons of money as a result of his education-reform bill, while his calculations show they'll come out ahead.

While debate in the House centered mostly on the issue of ending tenure for new teachers, math will matter more in the Senate. As the Senate considers Barnes' bill this week, the debate is more likely to hinge on funding winners and losers now that changes in the wording on ending tenure has satisfied many legislators concerned about teacher job protections.

"When the governor is telling you one thing and I am telling you another, it comes down to who do you believe," Schrenko said. "It's easy for the Democrats to believe the governor and Republicans to believe me."

Barnes' legislative package boosts funding for local schools and provides for quicker updates on the data used in figuring how much they qualify for, good news for rapidly growing districts. And the package proposes to fund counselors, nurses, and technology specialists many school systems had been paying for without state money -- more good news, local administrators say.

The education reform bill, House Bill 1187, also lowers the maximum class size over the next four years. Smaller classes require more teachers and classroom space, and that is where the added expense comes in for local systems.

"Probably most school systems across the state have had tight budgets for several years," said Gene Spires, controller for the Richmond County School System. "It's been hard to budget with the nice raises [legislators] have been giving."

Teachers have gotten a string of 6 percent annual pay raises, forcing local systems each time to come up with the cost of fringe benefits tied to the rising salaries. Local systems that supplement their teachers' pay as a way to attract recruits also have come up with the supplements for added teachers.

Schrenko estimates, for example, Richmond County will need 280 teachers to comply with class-size mandates in the bill based on next year's estimated enrollment. Using an average teacher salary of $35,000, she figures the increased faculty would cost the district $2.7 million more than the extra funds available to the district in Barnes' legislation.

Spires, however, said the average salary is actually around $49,000. Plus, he said, Schrenko hasn't included building new classrooms, something he expects will require another five-year local sales tax levy.

On Friday, Barnes agreed to an amendment in the Senate Education Committee that will give districts four years to reach the lower class sizes, cushioning the transition. …

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