Bush’s One Florida alliances offer little new, educators say

By GRACE FRANK, BILL HARMON and BETH PERRETTA of The Tampa Tribune

Originally published Feb. 19, 2000

TAMPA – What the governor calls a first result of his university admissions plan, local educators call much ado about nothing.

Gov. Jeb Bush intended to tout how much public schools stood to gain as a result of his new One Florida education policy that eliminates affirmative action in university admissions.

Taking to the lectern during a ceremony in Orlando on Friday, a day after the Board of Regents voted to abandon using race as a factor in university admissions, the governor announced what he called the program’s first “innovative solution” – the establishment of 31 alliances between universities and the worst public high schools, those graded D or F on state-issued report cards.

He proclaimed these alliances a direct result of One Florida.

“We’ve gone beyond the mode of saying, `Trust me,’ ” Bush said, “to `Watch me.’ ”

There was just one glitch: Local educators said there’s little new in the “Opportunity Alliances” Bush announced.

“I think there obviously was an error made,” said Richard Bartels, principal of King High School in Tampa, when told King was one of three “low-performing” schools identified by the governor as a new partner with the University of South Florida.

King is not a D or F school, Bartels said, his indignation clear over the telephone. The school, which graduates many who attend USF, earned a high C grade – almost a B – on its last report card, he said.

Even the association is not new. King and USF began running joint programs five years ago, Bartels said. A USF professor teaches a course at the school.

Reaction was the same at Franklin Middle School, the second of three alliances with USF said to be a result of One Florida. “I don’t know a thing about it,” said Principal Sandra Williams. “We already have a program with USF. It’s a Gear Up grant.”

In Project Gear Up, USF and Franklin secured a $2 million, six-year federal grant to offer tutoring, summer school and other assistance to students from seventh through 12th grade.

USF’s third alliance, according to a news release, is with Fort Meade Middle and Senior High School in Polk County.

A call to Bush’s office for comment was not returned late Friday.

Jane Applegate, USF’s education college dean, said the Bush plan probably would force schools to strengthen existing alliances.

“At this point it’s all brand new,” she suggested. “It might mean we’ll do more of what we’re already doing.”

Richard Peck, USF’s interim president, said he found “very little, actually,” that was new in the local alliances as described by the governor. Then he corrected himself.

“We’re going to get measured on the success of what we do. That’s different,” he said.

Besides race- and sex-neutral admissions, One Florida also guarantees university seats to top public high school graduates, offers help with standardized tests, and promises increased financial aid for needy students.

As a means of accomplishing that, Bush has said his budget would reward schools that form partnerships and penalize those that don’t, while university system Chancellor Adam Herbert intends to evaluate university presidents on the basis of how well they help local schools with larger minority populations.

But even the stick approach isn’t quite new.

USF faculty, and professors at all the state’s public universities, for years have been required to work in the community. Proof of service is one of three state-mandated requirements for tenure; the others are teaching and research.

Grace Frank covers higher education and can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 259-8285. Bill Harmon can be reached at (813) 885-5437. Beth Perretta can be reached at (813) 977-2854.