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COLUMN

Happytown

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The League of Women Voters of Florida, which has already halted its registration efforts, dropped its own hanky. “Governor Scott takes Florida back in time today, with his approval of cumbersome regulations that will make it harder for eligible Floridians to be engaged and active in their government,” LWVF President Dierdre McNabb press-released.

In other words, cumbersome regulation is the new deregulation, at least for those of us who aren’t corporations and unfortunately sport a pulse. Pass the cocktail, Myrtle. We need a little sunshine.

This has been a rough year for school districts nationwide, but for Orange County, it was all roses – well, sort of. On May 19, in a second-floor ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel, a group of educators and businesspeople gathered over breakfast for the county’s “State of Schools” address.The bulk of the speech was presented by district Superintendent Ron Blocker, who offered Orange County schools’ top 10 accomplishments last year, from the boringly financial (finishing $22 million under budget), to the impressively scientific: 19 Maitland middle school students are awaiting the results of “the effect of microgravity on the ability of ethanol to kill E. Coli,” an experiment being conducted on the space shuttle Endeavor as this issue goes to press. E. Gads!

Unless its data is completely fraudulent, Orange County has come a long way in the past decade: In 2002, it had more C schools than A schools; today, there are nearly four timesas many A schools as C schools. In 2000, the county’s graduation rate was 49.5 percent; today, it stands at an all-time high of 79 percent.

Still, the dark forces could not be ignored. When school board Chairman Bill Sublette reassumed the podium, he admitted that only 96 of the district’s 180 schools have a licensed nurse, and, alas, the district has only one registered lobbyist in Tallahassee. And speaking of politics, Sublette, a Republican, predictably and awkwardly defended the teacher merit-pay legislation set to go into effect next year. “A teacher entering her fifth year will receive less than a 1 percent raise this year, whereas a teacher entering her 19th year will receive a 7 percent raise this year,” he said. “Think of the message we’re sending to talented young teachers by such a pay system.” The audience clapped, albeit hesitantly.

Afterwards, Happytown™ caught up with Blocker and asked for his thoughts on the state legislature’s cuts to public schools this year. Blocker called the cuts “severe,” but he says the “blessing” for Orange County schools in particular was an increase in the millage rate (e.g., property taxes) approved by county voters last November. “We’re going to suffer, but the damage is going be manageable for us, as opposed to egregious,” Blocker said. Did we mention he also used the word “blood?”

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