Sarasota legislators vote to cut $12 million from Sarasota schools

Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Zac Anderson | February 17, 2022

The four Republicans representing Sarasota County in the Florida House voted Wednesday for a state budget that cuts $12 million from Sarasota schools because the district approved a mask mandate in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

State. Reps Fiona McFarland, Tommy Gregory, Will Robinson and James Buchanan all voted for the $105.3 billion House budget. The spending plan includes $200 million in cuts to 12 school districts with mask mandates.

Gregory, McFarland and Buchanan all live in Sarasota, while Robinson lives in Bradenton and represents a district that includes a portion of northern Sarasota County. Michele Rayner, a St. Petersburg Democrat whose district also includes a portion of Sarasota County, did not vote on the budget.

House leaders say the budget cuts will not impact students and teachers, but instead will be targeted at school administrators.

“I would never vote to take funding away from direct children education or from teachers,” McFarland said in a text message, noting the cuts target “central school administrators’ pay as a consequence for having instituted a mask mandate in violation of state laws.”

Buchanan also emphasized that the cuts don’t impact classroom education in a statement to the Herald-Tribune earlier this month as the budget was advancing through committees.

“We will continue to invest more in our children’s classrooms, but will not reward administrators who violated state law and forced children to wear masks,” Buchanan said.

DeSantis initially said he opposed cutting funding from school districts with mask mandates but recently put out a tweet saying he was glad the House budget protects “students and teachers from accountability measures affecting union-controlled politicians and bureaucrats who defied Florida law by masking kids.”

Robinson said Thursday that: “I stand with the Governor in fighting against these unnecessary and ineffective school mask mandates and support his and the House’s demand for accountability.”

Gregory did not respond to a request for comment.

The school funding cut is not included in the Senate’s education budget, which is overseen by Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who earlier told the Herald-Tribune that he opposes the reduction. The Senate approved it’s budget Thursday and now must negotiate over the differences with the House.

“We need every dollar,” Gruters said.

Sarasota schools adopted a mask mandate in August as the delta wave of COVID-19 infections was exploding, ignoring directives from DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education not to require masks.

The mask mandate was controversial. Parents protested at school board meetings, and many GOP leaders opposed the requirement. The Sarasota County School Board repealed the mask mandate in October as cases declined.

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