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Yes on Amendment 8; More on School Board Leak Scandal

Time to talk about Amendment 8 real quick.

Vote for it.

Amendment 8 is the one that is going to give Florida school boards a little more flexibility on class sizes that were mandated by the 2002 class-size amendment. Since then, the Legislature has appropriated about $18 billion to fund that amendment. Over the next ten years, that cost could hit another $40 billion.

And what do we have to show for it in Broward, the sixth-largest school district in the United States? A $2 billion debt caused by overbuilding of schools with the pigs behind it (read: lobbyists and their puppet-politicians) blaming it on the class-size amendment. 

But forget about the enormous cost. This is about the children, after all. So the class-size amendment has at least led to better student achievement, right?

Wrong. A recent Harvard Program on Education Policy and Performance study found that "Florida's class-size amendment has had no effect on student achievement."

It is, in a nutshell, big government at its worst (are you listening, Tea Party?). It's time to give a little more local control back to school boards, and then we can hold them accountable for how they spend our money with no excuses.

My school-teacher friends are going to balk (it's the school unions, naturally, that are really opposed to Amendment 8 and want to keep the status quo), but in this recessionary environment, it's time to slay some sacred cows. This one is ripe for the killing -- and it will save money that will go back into education to possibly keep arts education and other crucial electives alive (which might save a lot of teachers' jobs).  

Amendment 8 isn't radical, mind you; it's just sensible. The 2002 class-size amendment basically mandated that elementary schools have a cap of 18 students per class, middle school 22, and high school 25. Amendment 8 would keep those caps as averages, giving districts leeway. And there would still be caps of 21, 27, and 30, respectively.

And it will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The group Florida TaxWatch estimates it will save at least $350 million a year. Newspaper reports have put the savings at $7 billion over the next ten years.

This is a no-brainer. Vote for Amendment 8.  

Inside, I'm going to clear up a few things about the confidential document scandal at the School Board. 

Former School Board member Marty Rubinstein still hasn't explained how he obtained a classified security clearance report that he posted on his website to attack School Board member Phyllis Hope. Rubinstein, needless to say, is supporting Hope's opponent, Laurie Rich Levinson.

But he has clarified a few things. First, Rubinstein, whose website I won't link, points out that Hope's name is blacked out on the report. Here again is the pertinent part of the report that Rubinstein, now a political operative, posted Wednesday:

That applies to all background information. But there is more. The School Board's Special Investigative Unit gets its criminal background history from two sources, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Next to the Newark arrest is a denotation of where the record came from -- the FBI.

The FBI information is protected under federal law. The Florida Attorney General's Office determined in 1999 that all criminal history information "shared with a public school district by the Federal Bureau of Investigation retains its character as a federal record to which only limited access is provided by federal law and is not subject to public inspection under Florida's Public Records Act."

There you have it (here's a link to the AG opinion). Rubinstein seems aware that the source of the document is of key importance. Yesterday, he wrote of my post: "All of a sudden the 'illegal' document is an FBI document. What a crock of shit. Only a small (miniscule, really) part of the document indicates is that Hope's 1981 arrest was reported to the district by the FBI."

The "miniscule" part of the document he refers to happens to have been where it is specified that the FBI was the district's source of the Newark arrest. To be fair it, is small, three small initials, in fact.

So let's agree that it's clear that the law was broken here. And it's no small thing. Hope's right to privacy has been violated, and a serious security breach has been exposed. All in the name of dirty campaigning. Tricky Dick would have been proud. 

But who broke the law, and exactly when was the law broken? Well, again, the document indicates that the clearance report posted by Rubinstein was a fax sent on October 27, 2006. That was when Rubinstein was still a School Board member and was running against none other than Phyllis Hope, a political novice who cleaned his clock in the election.

The School Board's Bell said there is no record of Rubinstein or anyone else ever making a public records request for Hope's security clearance report (which would have been denied anyway). So where did it come from?

Did Rubinstein obtain the document somehow while he was a School Board member and only publish it now? Did he get access to more of the classified reports? Or did he obtain it only recently?

Time for these questions to get answered. If not from Rubinstein, then from the authorities.

Hope, meanwhile, says she finds the whole thing "creepy."

"It's scary when you think about it," she told me. "You wonder, if they did this, what else did they do?"

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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