Will FL charter school ruling deter wayward school districts?

Robin Gibson

Robin Gibson

If Florida public school administrators decide to convert their school to a charter school, they have the law on their side.

An administrative law judge’s ruling against the Miami-Dade school district last week was the first-ever ruling under Florida statutes that bar school districts from taking “unlawful reprisals” against employees who support charter conversions. But the question remains: Will those protections prevent school districts from derailing those efforts before parents and teachers can have their say, as happened in Miami-Dade?

According to the ruling by Edward Bauer of the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, the district tried to deter efforts to convert the Neva King Cooper Educational Center to a charter school. When administrators kept at it, the principal and assistant principal were transferred out of their jobs into what their attorney, Robin Gibson, called a “purgatory kind of existence,” replacing their administrative duties with menial tasks like sorting crayons and organizing car keys.

Bauer ruled that was against the law, and that Alberto Fernandez, the center’s former principal, is entitled to $10,000 worth of bonuses he would have received if he had remained in his old job.

However, the district still managed to thwart the charter conversion. Bauer declined to reinstate the two administrators to their old positions, noting the law requires them to be returned to “equivalent” jobs and that there are new top administrators in place at the school.

Gibson said he will likely contest that part of the decision. For the time being, he said, “the district can privately congratulate itself on still being unscathed.”

Gibson said the ruling helps establish that if districts retaliate against employees who support charter school conversions, they’ll be breaking the law. Now, “the question becomes, what are they going to do in light of this decision?” Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Technology, growth, testing and more

Technology. StateImpact delves into E-rate, the obscure funding source helping schools go wireless.  Hillsborough officials say they’ve worked most of the kinks out of their online gradebook software. Tampa Tribune. Manatee schools upgrade their Microsoft suite. Bradenton Herald.

florida-roundup-logoGrowth. Escambia officials are pushing a local school tax as a way to fund new buildings needed to accommodate an expected influx of jobs to the area. Pensacola News-Journal.

Teachers unions. The Sun-Sentinel reports on the Florida Education Association’s intervention in an ongoing leadership election dispute in Palm Beach County.

Testing. Collier County schools officials say they’re still waiting on the state to release a test item bank. Naples Daily News.

Low-income students. Hillsborough schools help outfit students with clothing, hygiene items, and other essentials. Tampa Tribune.

Retention. Collier schools look to get third graders up to grade level. Naples Daily News.

Continue Reading →

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StudentsFirst winding down FL operation

Rhee

Rhee

Michelle Rhee’s education reform group is scaling back its Florida operations, saying it wants to focus on policy battles elsewhere.

StudentsFirst will maintain a nominal presence in the state, but it’s pulling out most of its policy and outreach resources. Some of its leadership positions in the state, including state director, had already been vacant.

Lane Wright, the group’s regional spokesman, said StudentsFirst will keep operating in neighboring states. The group has been active in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

“We will still weigh in publicly on some education reform issues in (Florida),” Wright said late last week. “We will not be as heavily involved as we have been with our outreach and our policy.”

Wright said the decision was shaped in part by the fact that Florida has already adopted more of its policy agenda than any state besides Louisiana.

StudentsFirst’s state report card gives Florida especially high marks for teacher effectiveness, but its efforts to win changes in other areas met resistance. It was among the groups that pushed for the “parent trigger” legislation that died on tie Senate votes in 2012 and 2013. This year, it shifted focus to spending and governance, but a bill that would have required the state to measure schools’ return on investment did not make it out of the Legislature. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, private schools, facilities and more

Charter schools. In the first ruling of its kind, an administrative law judge rules the Miami-Dade school district unlawfully retaliated against administrators who backed a charter conversion. Miami Herald. A Gainesville charter school will close after learning it will likely receive another F. Gainesville Sun. A Palm Beach Post guest columnist questions a proposal to let charters share in tax revenue earmarked for arts programs.

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Facilities. Leon County Schools spent more than the state average on recent additions to district schools, which, statewide, frequently exceed the statutory threshold for projects funded through the Public Education Capital Outlay. Tallahassee Democrat. An engineering report finds a Hernando middle school needs its roof fixed. Tampa Bay Times.

Tax Credit Scholarships. Catholic school principal Todd DeClemente explains the benefits of the program in a St. Augustine Record guest column. The author of a column to which he was responding is back with another item that flubs basic facts, confuses the First and Second Amendments, and makes false allegations about Step Up For Students, which helps administer the program and co-hosts this blog.

Growth. Pasco schools prepare for new construction to accommodate growing enrollment. Gradebook. Walton district officials expect to build two more schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Private schools. A Tampa private school listens to residents’ concerns as it looks to add a performing arts center. Tampa Bay Times. A Montessori school in the Keys faces opposition to a planned new location. Keynoter.

Homelessness. A Central Florida teacher pledges to live on the streets for a month. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher conduct. A Broward teacher is set to be fired after 15 years of problems. Sun-Sentinel. A teacher is suspended for failing to report child abuse. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Nutrition. Some school districts offer free breakfast and lunch in schools with a high density of low-income students; others do not. Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →

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Running for school board & supporting parental choice

You won’t hear Brian Graham bashing the public schools.

The candidate for Clay County School board comes from a long line of educators, and works for a school district himself. But expanded school choice, he said, can create healthy competition and drive improvement in the public school system.

Brian Graham Clay County SB Cand_MG_5492“The free market doesn’t just apply to business,” he said. “The free market also should apply to education, and limiting parents’ options or students’ options does not benefit the students.”

The theme of unleashing the free market might resonate in Clay County, a Republican stronghold southwest of Jacksonville.

A seasoned Republican operative, Graham has worked on campaigns for the likes of U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, and former state Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville – both of whom championed school choice policies when they were in the Legislature.

He is currently the community relations coordinator for the Bradford County school district. So far, he’s received more campaign contributions than any other school board candidate in Clay County. He’s running for the seat vacated by his mother, an elementary school administrator. His grandmother and great-grandmother also taught in public schools.

If he’s successful this fall, he will join the small but growing ranks of school board members around the state – including his friend Jason Fischer in neighboring Duval County – who say school districts should embrace the full range of options available to parents, and look to add more of their own.

Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Budgets, campaigns, discipline and more

Budgets. Miami-Dade’s superintendent plans to lower tax rates while boosting spending. Miami Herald. The Pasco school board trims a list of staff additions. Gradebook.

florida-roundup-logoCampaigns. A liberal Democratic caucus questions Charlie Crist’s education record, including his positions on school choice, and promotes Nan Rich, his Democratic gubernatorial primary opponent. Tampa Tribune. Sunshine State News. The Pinellas teachers union makes an endorsement for an open school board seat. Gradebook.

Testing. The Pinellas school district plans to scrutinize students’ FCAT writing responses. Tampa Bay Times.

Discipline. The Duval school board rewrites its code of conduct. Florida Times-Union. Discipline is among the top issues for principal candidates in Lakewood Ranch. Bradenton Herald.

Cellphones. Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties adopt more relaxed policies, saying cellphones have become educational devices. Pensacola News-Journal.

Financial literacy. Florida is the first state in the nation to adopt national standards. Gradebook.

Summer. The Pasco school district takes kids outdoors with a summer adventure camp. Tampa Bay Times.

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Rural charter schools overcome obstacles to create new options

The proliferation of charter schools around the country has come more slowly to rural areas.

Yet nationwide, nearly 800 rural charter schools are grappling with limited funding, diffuse populations, and, in some cases, resistance from local school districts. Away from the spotlight of major media markets, they haven’t gotten as much attention as their urban counterparts.

But perhaps they should.

Terry Ryan is president of the Idaho Charter School Network. At an annual gathering of charter school advocates and educators in Las Vegas, he opened a discussion of high-performing rural charters by pointing out that only 27 percent of rural high school graduates make it to college – a sign, he said, that students in those areas could benefit from more options.

Michael Hayes, director of Crestone Charter School in southern Colorado, said it took time for a new “laboratory for learning” to take root in the Rockies and ease tensions with the local district. He recalled supporters in the early years leaving school board meetings and finding the tires on their cars had been slashed.

Over time, he said, the school learned to collaborate with the district and began to serve as a community gathering place, offering yoga lessons in a multi-purpose room known as Rainbow Hall.

“It took us 16 or 17 years to feel permanent, like we might not go away the next year,” he said. Now, “they know that we’re here to stay, that we’re not going anywhere.”

Asked what policies could help newer schools achieve a similar sense of permanence, Kylie Holley, principal of the Pataula Charter Academy in southwestern Georgia said: “Hands down, equitable funding.” Continue Reading →

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