Numbers may never add up

As far back as 1989 newspapers reported that some Florida school principals systematically under-reported crime on their campuses. By last year the problem had festered long enough, said House Majority Leader James King (R-Jacksonville). He assigned staff members of the House Education Committee to study the problem and write a report, so he could introduce corrective legislation in the session just ended. But the report was never completed.

According to Molly Jones, the staff member originally assigned the job, the effort was dropped after she was transferred. Two other committee staffers say the investigation was abandoned because of "lack of manpower."

But the staffers say two things happened to render their unfinished report moot. First, Florida won a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to work on school safety and, second, Gov. Bush's school-voucher program was passed. Committee staffer Patricia Levesque says a section of the voucher bill dealing with truants will correct reporting inaccuracies, although a reading of the bill reveals nothing about data quality or crime statistics.

Another part of the voucher bill says part of the assessment to be given to principals and other school administrators annually will be based on "ability to maintain school discipline." Garry Landry, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, says that creates new incentives for principals to avoid reporting every crime.

Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher has finished his annual crime report, Landry added; it is scheduled for release next week.

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