In part two of “Back to School,” WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody sits down with Santa Rosa County Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick, and what that district is facing in the new term.
For one thing, Wyrosdick is looking at higher numbers district-wide when classes kick off August 14.
“We’ll bump close to 29,000 students this year, and maybe go over that,” he says. “Our growth this year, probably in the neighborhood of 550-600 students.”
The district’s growing student body is somewhat reflective of the numbers from the Census Bureau, which show the county’s overall population rising nearly 13 percent from 2010 to July of last year, to just over 151,000.
“That growth is our number one opportunity to expand our base right now; it’s also our number one enemy,” Wyrosdick said. “It’s a double-edged sword but we’re pleased that we’re growing. A growing school district really is a sign of a healthy school district.”
Exponential growth is reported in the Navarre and Pace areas, but Wyrosdick says every area, including northern Santa Rosa County, is seeing more students compared to the 2016-17 school year. Add to that the new faces at the front of the classroom.
‘We’ve had our new teacher orientation, [and] had about 333 new teachers come to us,” Wyrosdick said. “Those are teachers who are new to us because of growth, and of course, some that have retired.”
Given the number of military families that move in and out of the county, one or perhaps both parents stationed at NAS Whiting Field or at Eglin Air Force Base to the east, those families have special challenges and needs that the district tries to meet.
“We provide special liaisons for them to make that transition,” Wyrosdick said. “We try to provide some services above and beyond what we would normally provide for students who are residential.”
Santa Rosa and Florida’s other 66 public school districts are reviewing what the new state education budget means for them. House Bill 7069 provides $419 million for schools. Wyrosdick says there much more in the spending plan that he deplores, than what he likes.
“I believe personally that it’s unconstitutional; it’s taking away [the] rights of local school boards to operate their school system the way the elected public has asked them to do,” says Wyrosdick. “And it’s almost arrogant, with the attitude we’re seeing from our legislators are, ‘we’re going to do this; it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not.’”
Wyrosdick believes the motives behind HB 7069 are far more about economic opportunities through private charter schools than supporting public education. He adds it’s also leading to a modern-day version of school segregation.
“You’re taking dollars that taxpayers have given to public schools and giving it to voucher and charter school programs, that do not meet the accountability that public schools do,” Wyrosdick says. “It is creating a dual system of education in the state of Florida.”
At least 16 school districts have either file suit, or are preparing to file against the new budget. The Santa Rosa School Board opposes the plan, and Wyrosdick says there have been discussions about possible legal action.
“I believe the [School Board] are taking a wait-and-see attitude right now,” said Wyrosdick. “They would much rather appeal to our local [legislative] delegation to represent Santa Rosa County.”
Meanwhile, work continues to get ready for the new school term. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick was asked if he could deliver a pep talk to the 29,000+ kids attending the elementary, middle and high schools, what he would say.
“Be excited; be ready, be enthusiastic.”