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Trustees oppose amendments

It was unanimous, and it took less than eight minutes.

During a Monday conference call, the USF Board of Trustees voted to “strongly oppose” Amendments 11 and 9, both of which will appear statewide on the Nov. 5 ballot. The board’s resolution was not a surprise as it joined several other boards around the state who have taken similar actions.

But the board’s choice to make its voice heard about the amendments is significant. Both amendments have sparked a heated political debate in many races, including the one for governor. Both will also have an impact on the way Florida’s education system, ranked as worst in the country, will operate in the coming years.

The most immediate impact may come from Amendment 11, which, if passed, will take power away from the BOT and deliver it to a state-level entity that resembles the now-defunct Board of Regents.

If the amendment passes, this entity, a Board of Governors, will have 17 members and, in addition to coordinating universities, will govern all levels of education throughout the state. The BOT would not be eliminated, but would serve under the Board of Governors.

One of the goals written into the new amendment is that “wasteful duplication of facilities or programs is to be avoided.”

During the conference call, BOT chairman Dick Beard told his fellow board members that boards from the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and other prominent state universities had already voted to oppose the amendment. He said the USF trustees needed to follow the lead set by its counterparts.

“It’s appropriate for us to take (a stand), too,” Beard said. “(The amendment) totally changes the governance.”

A board member, who did not identify herself, agreed with Beard. She said how the new Board of Governors would operate would be an unknown. Besides, she said, the BOT has only been in place for slightly more than a year.

“We haven’t given (the BOT) a chance,” she said.

The Board of Governor’s control would cover grades K- 20. The BOT’s resolution takes exception to this broad coverage.

“Amendment 11 will fragment the currently seamless K-20 system and reverse the gains attained in articulation and cooperation between delivery systems,” the resolution said.

The resolution goes further, stating that the amendment reduces the role of the BOT and transfers authority to “a new and unnecessary bureaucratic entity with no allegiance to the local community.”

The resolution further states that the School Code, which will take place in 2003, eliminating the Board of Education and providing more power to the BOT, gives the board its power.

For Amendment 9, the board’s concerns were more monetary than philosophical. The amendment calls for the Florida Legislature to provide funds to allow all state schools to lower class sizes by 2010 to prescribed limits.

This amendment has spurred heated debate in the race for governor. Bill McBride supports the amendment while Gov. Jeb Bush has voiced his opposition.

The major concern with the amendment from both the governor and the BOT is the price tag. Estimates have the implementation costs ranging from $5 billion to $27.5 billion. Beard said if the amendment passes, new classrooms will have to be constructed, and some 32,000 teachers will have to be hired.

“The state has a tremendous problem (with a shortage of teachers),” Beard said. “This just adds to it.”

Beard said the money should not be delegated from the state, but should be spent by local governments.

The board’s resolution says Amendment 9 will hurt education in Florida.

“Amendment 9 would effectively prevent alternative approaches for improving student performance that could be implemented more quickly and at less cost to taxpayers,” the resolution said.

With the board now standing in opposition, the debate on both amendments will likely continue in force until the elections two weeks from now. USF will play host to this debate on Oct. 29 when the faculty union holds an Amendment 11 discussion, which will be highlighted by a visit from Florida Board of Education Chairman Phil Handy.