State Representative Gallop Franklin and State Senator Corey Simon took over the Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners chambers for a delegation meeting last week.
The legislators heard from elected officials and citizens alike.
Gadsden officials brought up the need for more high-paying industrial jobs in the county.
Commissioner Brenda Holt pointed out Gadsden County is the only county in the panhandle that has four Interstate 10 exits.
“We have more possibilities for economic development than anywhere else, from Alabama to Jackson County,” Holt said. “So, we have the resources; we just need the means to develop the resources and to get that coming into the county because we do need jobs.”
Holt said Gadsden needs more opportunities for industrial certifications because companies see that as an asset.
“An important focus for me during this session is that CTE, that career and technical education,” Senator Simon said in response. “I think you all are sitting on a little bit of a gold mine.”
Simon said it’s important that children are not just pushed into four-year education that doesn’t lead to employment.
“I always say it’s a very expensive hobby if you can’t walk away with a job opportunity, and that’s not what we’re doing for our kids,” Simon said.
Gadsden Classroom Teacher Association President Judith Mandel said public education is important to democracy.
She asked the legislators to remember the need to maintain public education as they consider their education policies this session.
Mandela making sure the workforce for industry is in place stems from having a good education system.
“As we consider the teacher shortages and a lot of the issues that we face, we know that Florida right now, even with the large investment they’ve made over the last couple of years, still struggles with salaries being at the bottom in the nation in terms of average,” Mandela said. “There’s been improvement with our new teachers, which is great; we want to be able to bring new teachers into the profession but that has been unbalanced for a few years.”
Mandela, on behalf of Gadsden teachers, asked that the legislators consider the flexibility to raise teacher’s salaries for both new and experienced teachers alike.
Teachers with 30 or more years of service still make less than $60,000 a year.
Mandela said a greater commitment to education is essential.
Franklin acknowledged there is a catastrophic teacher shortage across the state of Florida.
“You definitely have my commitment to work on what we can do for teachers to ensure that they will be in it for the long haul because it’s going to be better for students long term,” Franklin said.
Simon said one of his objectives while chairing the Pre-K through 12 education committee is teacher retention.
Superintendent Elijah Key agreed with Mandela that there needs to be clearer language on spending the teacher salary increase allocations.
Last year the district gave raises ranging from $1,200 to $7,000 annual, the lowest amounts went to veteran teachers.
Since Key took office in 2020, the starting salary for beginning teachers increased from $34,00 to $45,000.
“As she [Mandela] said we’re currently in negotiations and there’s some disagreement about language about how the money is supposed to be spent,” Key said.
Key said part of that is interpretation of the law.
Key also touched on career technical readiness.
“Our students are leaving school ready to join the job force,” Key said.
Key said one problem Gadsden County is having is with scheduling.
He said Gadsden County High School Principal Chelsea Franklin, who is also Representative Franklin’s wife, is working with the district to address the issue.
“We have a lot of kids entering high school and they’re nowhere close to graduation ready,” Key said. “Around 10th grade is really where you find that out.”
The superintendent said if students enter ninth grade with Level 1s on eighth grade assessments, they attempt to give them additional help.
“When you give them additional help – additional courses – to try to make sure they’re graduation ready, that takes away their ability to sign up for Gadsden Technical College for half a day.”
Key said graduation rates came out recently and there was a decline. However, he noted that this comes after two years of no testing requirements.
“So, all kids had to have was simply their credits and grade point average and they graduate,” Key said. “Last year testing went back into effect and as a result we weren’t 75 percent.”
Key said this most recent graduation rate was seven percent higher than it was pre-pandemic.
Lastly, Key said the district’s main focus is to get funding for a new school in Quincy, so students can be moved out of dilapidated schools that are more than 50 years old.
“I’d be happy to take any of you all on a tour of Shanks, Stewart Street, George Munroe at any time,” Key said to the legislators.
Simon said he and Franklin have both been working with the Department of Education on their respective ends to try to get a better adjustment to the cost per student station.
“That $500 per square foot, as you all know, is just not adequate,” Simon said.
The state legislators also heard from municipal leaders on priorities for their respective cities and towns.
Simon’s deadline for appropriations is January 27 and Franklin’s deadline is January 30.
Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service