MaryEllen Elia & Judy Genshaft discuss priorities at Hillsborough Legislative Delegation meeting

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For the first time in four years, non-charter public schools in Florida received a relatively substantial amount of funding from the Florida Legislature this year toward the maintenance of school buildings.

In 2011 and 2012, all of the monies allocated by Tallahassee to the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) trust fund went to charter schools. This past year was the first time in the Rick Scott era where traditional public schools received more than charter schools in that category; public schools received $110 million, charter schools $75 million, and state colleges $122.5 million.

The Hillsborough County School District, the second biggest district in the state, received $3.8 million in PECO funds, which wasn’t nearly enough for all of the needs of the district, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia told state legislators representing Hillsborough County today.

“That is relatively low for the 250 school sites we have,” she said at the Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus.

As they do every year in December, the local delegation convened to discuss any local bills that might be submitted during the legislative session next year, as well as hosting a public forum for elected and appointed officers to address them. In the afternoon they then heard members of the public talk about their  issues of concern.

Elia also used her time in front of the state legislators to advocate for an increase in baseline public school education funding, hoping to restore those levels to where they were in the pre-global recession era. She also called on the the local delegation to advocate for guaranteed funding for the Exceptional Student Education, or ESE, program in public schools.

And with new state testing standards in place — based on the Common Core State Standards — students will be encountering new tests  for reading, writing, and math this spring. Elia said that the transition won’t allow for growth levels, saying that was “extremely important” as a gauge to determine how much a student has learned from the first day of school until the last day.

University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft came before legislators to pump up enthusiasm for the $157 million proposal to have the university’s College of Medicine and the USF Health Heart Institute moved to a downtown campus location, part of developer Jeff Vink’s master plan for the Channelside area. That move will occur pending approval by the state Board of Governors in January.  Undoubtedly the legislators are well aware of the plan, and the fact that USF hopes to receive $62 million from Tallahassee to help fund it. “The impact is really huge,” Genshaft said about the proposed move, which would allow students to be much closer to Tampa General Hospital, the school’s primary teaching hospital.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober made the plea for more funding, referring to how overstretched his office currently was. He said some attorneys in his office are working on hundreds of cases.

Lorelei Bowden Jacobs from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detailed the priorities that the Florida Sheriffs Association has, which are 1) to reduce the incarceration of the mentally ill, 2) support electronic oaths, which would allow  deputies to notarize documents electronically in order to bring further efficiency to law enforcement and corrections, and 3) support legislation that enhances the rights of homeowners to better enable them to legally remove unwanted house guests without having to use provisions of the Landlord Tenant Act. In other words, give homeowners the ability to toss out squatters and other unwanted guests.

House Democrat Darryl Rouson asked Jacobs if Sheriff David Gee had any opinions about the use of body cameras on officers, an issue that has received loads of attention in the post-Ferguson era. Jacobs said Gee did not have a position on the issue at this time.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at