To keep my comments in perspective, please keep in mind that St. Johns School District is the largest employer in the county and one reason for its rapid residential growth is its high level of performance with state rankings of Florida’s School Districts. A large portion of the county’s economic base is directly related to education programs.

On Sept. 16, a St. Augustine Record editorial, “Will measuring public schools make a difference if they are gone?” and the Superintendent’s Tim Forson’s guest column “By any measure, our schools are achievers” address political, financial and performance trends and issues primarily initiated by state legislative actions. A prime example of legislative financial initiative was the reduction of property taxes during the recession years and limiting new financial tax revenue. Further pressures were initiated by Gov. Scott when first elected to office with his stated desire to take control of District School Boards. Since approximately 2002, St. Johns County District Schools has experienced outstanding leadership in the face of a rapid growing residential community. That growth resulted in a fast-growing school system exerting continuing pressure and tension on district leadership and staff to meet the facility and staffing requirements. This has been accomplished admirably even with state limitations on initiating new construction. To my knowledge, during these years the School Board has had little dissension and worked cooperatively on the continuing challenges.

I believe some of the most important program initiatives taken that develop community relationships and strengthen overall performance are: Character Counts, School Improvement Plans (annual), Academies (Ties with business and associations) and strategic planning. If you accept The Record editorial in its vision of potential state control of public and private schools, School Board members should seriously consider actions that would prevent such a takeover that would be potentially very damaging not only to education, but the county economy. As you are aware, decisions made at a state level can have a very different impact upon individual Florida counties. Hopefully the board will outline a plan with community leaders that will allow local control and management to be retained and strengthened. You have a day-to-day, hands-on management of these issues and deeper understanding of the values at stake — so I can only suggest a few initiatives. However accepting this challenge will likely require you have a plan in place prior to the next legislative session.

A plan might include workshopping issues with Board of County Commissioners’ inclusion in the planning process — or strengthening participation of parent involvement in programs such as school improvement programs and Character Counts. Future ties and partnership with businesses and associations need to be incorporated into overall lobbying efforts, along with improving opportunities for student access to practical programs leading to potential work experience and employment. Finally, financial planning to include new potential revenue sources and fees that can fill budget gaps not presently being addressed.

While lobbyists have a role, the impact of community leaders upon legislators cannot be discounted in the overall decisions.