Times Managing Editor
Gov. Rick Scott paid an after-hours visit Friday to Gadsden Magnet Elementary School in Quincy, meeting with a few teachers, students, administrators and parents as part of his “listening tour” at a number of schools statewide. The tour included stops in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Madeira Beach and Tallahassee.
Pam Stewart, interim education commissioner for the state, also sat in on the roundtable-style discussion.
Scott invited participants to talk about topics such as the number of standardized tests students are required to take, and ways to reward effective teachers.
One parent, Wesley Bruner, asked if there were ways to make sure all candidates for the office of superintendent of schools were qualified to do the job.
Scott said in some districts, the superintendent of schools is hired by the school board, not elected. But he said the same issue applies to any candidate running for office.
“We have that issue, and we have to rely on voters,” he said. He urged voters to meet candidates and ask them questions, and then hold them accountable.
He noted that his work experience is in business.
“I hope I’m doing a good job,” he said. “I have no background in government.”
Ultimately, Scott said school funding is tied to sales and property taxes, and while sales taxes are trending up, property taxes are down, and sales tax revenue growth is not keeping pace with the cost of Medicaid.
He listed the three largest components of the state budget as Medicaid, schools and prisons.
He said Medicaid costs are growing.
If we don’t control this, there’s no money here,” he said.
Concerns raised by some of the participants included declining classroom discipline.
Scott said while discipline issues are handled at the local level, “clearly it’s tough on all these teachers.” He said one of his daughters had been a teacher for three years.
“She was disappointed about the discipline,” he said.
Dr. Headley White asked why teacher pay scales vary statewide, while school districts are essentially paid the amount of money per student.
Stewart said salaries are negotiated in each district through local unions.
Scott said some places in the state are more expensive to live in than others.
Roosevelt Rogers asked why there is such a big push for school vouchers instead of keeping the money in public schools.
“What most parents want is more choice,” Scott said, and then noted most of the money is all flowing through the school districts right now.
Several seventh-graders also had the opportunity to ask the governor a few questions. One girl asked what he did to keep himself looking so young.
“We eat a lot of vegetables,” he said, “and I try to work out every day.
The governor also offered the students some advice for success, including getting up early, studying, getting along with people, asking for a lot of advice and listening.