Florida schools roundup: Retention, legal fees, school crowding and more

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florida-roundup-logoRetention rules: Manatee County school officials say they will not consider a student’s portfolio to justify a promotion to fourth grade if the student has not taken the Florida Standards Assessments test or a state-approved alternative. They say the state Department of Education supports their position. Bradenton Herald. Even while school districts are threatening third-graders with retention because they didn’t take the state testing or an alternative, Florida law allows the use of a portfolio as an exemption to testing. Gradebook. Parents in the opt-out movement are headed for a showdown with Manatee County school administrators. Bradenton Times.

Legal fees rapped: The state spent $3.7 million for outside counsel to defend against the lawsuit that alleged Florida failed its constitutional mandate to provide a quality education for all public school students. A circuit judge dismissed the suit. Now one of those groups bringing it, Fund Education Now, is criticizing the state for that expense. The Florida Senate and House split the legal fees because the suit named Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, as well as the state board and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. A Gardiner aide says the Orlando Republican is “certainly comfortable with this investment of taxpayer dollars.” Politico Florida.

School crowding: If the courts rule that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships are unconstitutional, as the Florida Education Association alleges, the state’s already crowded schools might have to quickly absorb another 78,000 students. That could cause problems in some districts. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers the program. Tampa Bay Times.

Construction costs: School districts spend more on buildings using the construction manager-at risk approach than the traditional method of design-bid-build, according to a study by Clemson University researchers. The cost per square meter was $192 for the construction manager approach, and $148 with design-bid-build. The conclusion is based on a study of 137 school projects in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Engineering News-Record.

New schools planned: The Orange County School District is planning to spend up to $3 billion to build 16 schools in the next nine years to accommodate growth in the student population. Orlando Sentinel. The Palm Beach County School District is applying for a grant that could lead to the creation of an arts middle school in Boynton Beach and several other magnet programs at other schools. The grant from the U.S. Department of Education is worth $12 million over three years. Five schools would share the money. Palm Beach Post.

Substitute teachers: The use of substitute teachers is growing nationally. Data generally shows the use of subs is associated with lower student achievement. Gatehouse Media Services. In Polk County, more than 60 percent of the time substitutes are used, it’s for teacher absences and to fill vacant positions. Lakeland Ledger.

Bathroom fight: Republican political leaders are treading softly on the issue of bathroom use by transgender students. Social conservatives are pressuring for more resistance to the Obama administration’s directive, but many GOP leaders are wary of putting federal funding for schools at risk. Orlando Sentinel. A Q&A on transgender students. Education Week.

Yearbook diversity: Brevard County yearbook advisers use facial recognition software and tagging to try to make yearbooks more inclusive. The goal is to have every student pictured three times. Florida Today.

AP test retake: About 200 more Lake Nona High School students have to retake advanced placement tests this week. The College Board threw out the exams in chemistry, environmental science, French, physics and Spanish because desks were too close together or partitions were set up at the wrong time. School officials accept responsibility for the error. Earlier this month 114 Lake Nona students had to retake the AP psychology exam because desks were placed too close together. Orlando Sentinel.

Oxbridge purge: Bill Koch, founder of the Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, has fired the CEO, the athletic director and the football coach following a report detailing allegations of sexual harassment and high turnover among employees and an overemphasis on football at the expense of academics. Palm Beach Post. USA Today.

Turmoil at school: Parents of St. Andrews School students in West Boca are wondering what’s going on at their school. The resignation of the headmaster was followed shortly by the private school hiring two law firms to investigate whether any students were sexually abused. The school has been silent, fueling the speculation. Palm Beach Post.

Newpoint pleads not guilty: Newpoint Education Partners pleads not guilty to charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crime. The charter school management company was indicted earlier this month by an Escambia County grand jury. Gradebook.

Contract squabble: The Volusia County teachers union is filing an unfair labor practice charge with the Florida Professional Employee Relations Commission against the school board. The union says the board hasn’t followed state law because it hasn’t resolved the contract dispute between the union and the district. The district says the union is violating the law by not letting its members vote on the proposal the board made: a 4 percent pay hike over two years if the teachers accept paying higher premiums for health insurance.Daytona Beach News-Journal. A special magistrate is recommending a 2.5 percent raise for Broward County teachers. It would replace the 1.5 percent raise agreed to in 2013 as part of a three-year deal. The district has said it’s paying what is in the contract. The teachers union argues the previous years’ raises cost less than expected. Sun-Sentinel.

Girls football game: The Jupiter High School Powder Puff girls tackle football game was played Friday, the juniors won and only one girl was slightly injured. The annual game between junior and senior girls was threatened when school officials canceled it due to safety concerns. The girls got the town to sponsor the game, bought insurance and played before about 500 fans on a rainy night. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press.

School health clinic: The Manatee County School District is considering starting a free walk-in health clinic for its employees. Several other districts around the state already have them. A similarly sized school district, Escambia, says the clinic has saved it about $18 million in a little over two years. Bradenton Herald.

Superintendent evaluation: Four of the five Hernando County School Board members give Superintendent Lori Romano a favorable review. Three members grade her at 25 on a 27-point scale, one at 21 and one at 14. Tampa Bay Times.

Board member resigns: A Miami-Dade County School Board member resigns, effective Nov. 21. Raquel Regalado is expected to run for county mayor. Miami Herald.

Teacher honored: A Gainesville middle school teacher wins the Teacher as Researcher Award, a national award given by the American Education Research Association for outstanding research. Ross VanBoven, a P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School teacher, detailed  his experience teaching a gifted sixth-grade student during the 2014-2015 school year. Gainesville Sun.

Frozen grants: A U.S. Department of Education spokesman says the department froze $3.2 million in grants to the Polk County School District until it complies with Title VI of federal law, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin. It was not because of Title IX violations, which are associated with discrimination based on sex. Lakeland Ledger.

School stabbing: According to an arrest report, a 16-year-old Royal Palm Beach High School student stabbed another boy 15 times with a pocket knife during a fight in a school bathroom last week. The attacker is charged with attempted murder. The victim was reported in stable condition. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Student arrested: A 16-year-old South Fort Myers High School student is arrested and charged with cruelty toward a child, allowing a child to engage in a sexual act and possession of obscene material. He was among the students involved in sexual activity in a school bathroom with a 15-year-old girl. Associated Press. The story of the events in the bathroom at South Fort Myers High School has gone global. Fort Myers News-Press.

Activist convicted: Clarence “Shahid” Freeman is convicted or trying to extort $1 million from the Palm Beach County School District. Freeman created a letter with allegations of sexual impropriety by then-Superintendent Wayne Gent and other administrators, and threatened to make it public if there were payouts for a district employee and a reading program represented by Freeman. Sentencing is July 12. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: All youths need safe schools where they can be who they are regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Cindy Watson, Florida Times-Union. Florida’s new K-12 computer science standards will only be meaningful if policymakers adopt a serious plan to attract computer science professionals to the teaching profession and implement incentive programs. Paul Cottle, Tallahassee Democrat. The Hillsborough County School Board’s decision to survey high school and middle school students on risky behaviors, including sexual behaviors, will help the community focus efforts on reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Tampa Bay Times. Florida school officials do not require proof that a child can read to be promoted. They require proof that a child took the Big Standardized Test. They have lost their minds. Peter Greene, Curmudgucation. So far, the Lake County School District has spent $11,000 fighting with the blue-collar workers union over an issue barely worth discussing. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. As parents and community members, we expect Leon County School Board members and school district leadership to use Title I funds purposefully and efficiently. Sandy Niedert and Marie-Claire Leman, Tallahassee Democrat. Graduates, heed the lessons of Christopher Robin and his advice to Winnie the Pooh: “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Unfortunately, as grades become a less dependable measure of accomplishment and ability, the standardized tests seem to be the only common quantifier left to judge students by. Laurie Futterman, Miami Herald. Ejecting and arresting a speaker at a Brevard County School Board meeting was an abuse of authority and a failure to understand and respect the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Florida Today. The Sarasota County School District has not expelled any students during the school year, and the number of suspensions has dropped dramatically. The district’s policies and practices should be expanded. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Marion County School Board needs to join up with the vast majority of our student population and faculty and be accepting those persons who are different in sexuality as the worthy persons they are. Janis Cross Cubbage, Oacala Star Banner. Of the state’s 67 district teachers of the year, just four of them were judged best or brightest among the 5,500 teachers who shared the $49 million bonuses from the Legislature. Think about it. St. Augustine Record.

 Student enrichment: The Greater Naples YMCA is selected to run the NCEF Early Childhood Development Center at Florida SouthWestern State College’s Collier campus. Naples Daily News. Jackie McCall, 46, receives a high school diploma from Faces Learning Academy in Opa-locka nearly 30 years after she dropped out. WSVN. River Grace, a 16-year-old senior-to-be at West Shore High School in Melbourne, wins three prizes for his animal science project at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair. Florida Today. Brigham Academy fourth- and fifth-graders learn a lesson in community service while beautifying their school. Lakeland Ledger. Manatee School for the Arts students Sara Sutton, Zoe Zimmerman and Adam Fuentes win a trip to a national history competition for their project on reporter Nellie Bly. Bradenton Herald.