School board member Cara Reynolds was the featured speaker at the October meeting of the DWC, focusing on recent Florida legislation and its impact on the Charlotte County Schools. She highlighted how the Charlotte County School Board successfully worked with local state legislators to receive grant funding to create a technical airframe career program for county students as part of an expanding state initiative to promote career and tech education.
She addressed school safety issues, noting that every county school has at least one dedicated school resource officer. She indicated that the Charlotte County Board has not yet addressed the state’s Guardian Program, allowing teachers voluntarily to train to carry guns in school. She says the board seems disinclined to take up the matter. That indicates to her that the Board has no interest in participating in the Guardian Program at this time. Students do practice monthly safety drills.
Reynolds talked about the impact the recent school referendum has had. Base pay for teachers has gone up from $38,000 to $45,000. Most current teachers have seen a 13-17% pay raise. The pay increases should help attract and keep qualified teachers. The referendum has also helped to hire reading coaches for students.
The Charlotte County Schools have moved up from 48th place in the state to 30th. This has occurred even though the poverty levels in Charlotte County are high compared to neighboring areas that rank higher. For example, there are two schools in the county where 100% of the students come from socially/economically deprived homes. The highest percentage in a Sarasota school is 81%. According to Reynolds, every child in the county receives a free breakfast and lunch as part of a federal program.
In other efforts to assist deprived students, the Charlotte County Schools are expanding efforts to work with local nonprofits such as the Boys and Girls Club to build coordinated programs as partners rather than working separately.
Although Charlotte County has relatively few charter schools, Reynolds had concerns about legislation shifting increasing allocations of money to charter and private schools statewide. As a taxpayer herself, she is concerned that her money is going to many programs that require very little oversight compared to the public schools.
Another financial concern is the growing number of “unfunded mandates” coming from the state level. As an example, the state is now requiring 5 hours of mental health education each year for students in grades 6-12. With that mandate came no curriculum or money to guide the local schools. She points out that the state has changed its required standards five times in the past 24 years.