Florida schools roundup: Scholarships appeal, science tests moved and more

florida-roundup-logoScholarships appeal: Three judges of the First District Court of Appeal hold a 50-minute hearing to consider whether the Florida Education Association and others have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. The judges also must decide if there is a specific harm to public schools. No ruling was issued. The FEA says the program diverts money from public schools. The state says the plaintiffs have no standing to sue because no public money goes into the program. Instead, companies make donations and get tax credits in return. A circuit judge ruled in the state’s favor last year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers tax-credit scholarships for almost 80,000 low-income students, and also the Gardiner Scholarships for students with disabilities. Miami Herald. redefinED. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. WFSU. Associated Press.

Science tests moved: The statewide science assessments tests have been moved from March 27-31, 2017, to May 1-5, the state Department of Education announces. Administrators and teachers complained that with the earlier date, they wouldn’t have been able to cover all the material the students need to know before taking the tests. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook.

Magnet plan: Pinellas County School Superintendent Michael Grego says he’s prepared to kill a proposal to start magnet programs at six failing elementary schools. The programs were announced last week as a way to attract new students and improve the schools. But leaders in the black community are skeptical that the programs would address the needs of the low-performing students already there. Tampa Bay Times.

Grade changes: Some members of the Broward County School Board are pushing the district to award A+ grades, just as they give out B+, C+ and D+ grades. A school district committee did not agree, and the matter will be discussed later. Sun-Sentinel.

Sparring in Duval: Duval County School Board member Constance Hall charges that she was followed after a board meeting in November by “someone” related to Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who was driving a dark SUV. At that meeting, Hall presented a letter criticizing Vitti for what she called disrespectful communication from the superintendent toward several board members. Vitti says his wife and chief of staff were in a dark SUV that night, but were not following Hall. Florida Times-Union.

Charters on block: Pinellas County School Board members seem receptive to terminating contracts with four charter schools. They will vote next Tuesday. Three of the schools – Windsor Preparatory Academy and East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg, and Newpoint Pinellas Academy in Clearwater – are managed by Newpoint Education Partners, which has had financial problems and was indicted last week in Escambia County on charges of grand theft and money laundering. The fourth school is Florida Virtual Academy. The schools enroll almost 1,000 students and take in $6 million in public money. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Sale tax hike: The Palm Beach County School Board and the county commission reach an agreement on putting a joint 1-cent sales tax increase before voters in November. The deal gives the school board the right to back out if the county and cities don’t approve the tax proposal by June 10. And it allows the tax to end if it raises $2.7 billion in fewer than 10 years. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

School rezonings: The Duval County School Board votes 4-3 to change the boundaries and grade configurations of Susie E. Tolbert and S.P. Livingston elementary schools. Florida Times-Union.

Religion in schools: Hillsborough County school officials say they don’t want the monitoring of religious-based programs in schools to discourage people from volunteering. Tampa Bay Times. The American Civil Liberties Union writes a letter to the Hillsborough district objecting to a religious organization, Huddle Touch, soliciting and publishing endorsements from district administrators. Gradebook.

Superintendent’s contract: The Manatee County School Board will vote May 24 on a four-year contract for Superintendent Diana Greene. The starting pay would be $189,000 a year. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Pay hikes: The Leon County School Board approves $5 million in salary increases for school workers, including top-level administrators, despite the budget committee’s concerns that the district’s budget is the worst it has been in almost 30 years. Tallahassee Democrat. The Polk County School Board approves contract agreements with teachers, para-educators and support personnel. The employees will vote on the contracts May 23. If approved, starting teachers would get a $672 raise, from $40,000 to $40,672, and the maximum salary would be $61,072 after 27 years. Lakeland Ledger.

Contract negotiations: The Volusia County teachers union will meet with school district officials May 18 to try to resolve the impasse in contract negotiations. The district is proposing no raises. The union contends the district has the money for raises. A special magistrate ruled in favor of the teachers, but the district said it would not follow his recommendation. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

One-room school: Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene favors a plan to turn Florida’s last one-room schoolhouse, Duette Elementary School, into a shared educational and community space that would still be owned by the district. The school board seemed receptive to the plan, and will vote later. Bradenton Herald.

Construction costs: Sarasota County school officials say the new law limiting how much districts can spend from local revenue sources on school construction will force them to maximize the size of new schools instead of focusing on saving money. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Union president: A longtime teacher and administrator with the Hernando County School District wins a three-year term as president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. Vince La Borante, 60, has been a social studies teacher at West Hernando Middle School. Tampa Bay Times.

New school plans: The city of Tamarac and the Broward County School Board have plans for the city’s first high school. Millennium Middle School would be reconfigured to create a “collegiate academy” — a magnet school providing students an associate degree. The school would open for the 2017-2018 school year. Sun-Sentinel.

Engagement survey: Teacher satisfaction is up in 2016, according to an employee engagement conducted on behalf of the Brevard County School District. Teachers did express a desire for more feedback from their supervisors. Florida Today. Meanwhile, the Brevard County School Board wants Superintendent Desmond Blackburn to add employee input to his six-part strategic plan. Florida Today.

Administrators honored: Ten Florida school administrators are honored with Governor’s Shine awards. WJXT. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers not renewed: About 180 Bay County School District teachers will not have their contracts renewed. More than 50 of them are retiring, and many of the remaining ones are having problems getting certified. Panama City News Herald.

School bus sticker: An anti-Hillary Clinton sticker has been removed from an Okaloosa County school bus after a complaint. School officials say they don’t know who put the sticker on the bus, but it’s a violation of district policy. The sticker read: “Save Freedom. Stop Hillary.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

School violence: Parents must take more responsibility for their children, and volunteers and religious leaders must become more involved to stop the violence at Leesburg High School. That was the message from community leaders and school district officials at a meeting about the recent outbreak of fighting at the school. Daily Commercial.

Murgio’s trial: Former Palm Beach County School Board member Mike Murgio is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 31 on federal charges of bribery. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher pleads out: A Rickards High School math teacher pleads no contest to battery on four female students. Richard Cullen, 29, was arrested in February after the students said he touched them inappropriately. Cullen will complete 75 days of Leon County Jail work camp, be on probation for a year, be barred from unsupervised contact with minors and forfeit his state teaching certificate. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher resigns: David Ferguson, a 29-year-old English teacher at Fort Pierce Central High School accused of an improper relationship with a student, resigns. The Indian River County School Board was expected to fire him. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: The NAACP is on the wrong side of justice and opportunity in opposing the state’s tax-credit scholarship programs. R.B. Holmes, Tallahassee Democrat. The last time the Lake County School Board hired a school superintendent, it was reluctant to recruit candidates. It needs to get over that this time. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. Of all the things Florida can do “for the students,” one of the most important is to do more for the teachers. Jac Wilder VerSteeg, Sun-Sentinel. Students at the State College of Florida’s Collegiate School have been given a rare opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree free of tuition and fees. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Blue Zones health initiatives can now be started in Collier County schools. The school board approved the program, which seeks to promote healthy lifestyles throughout the county. Naples Daily News. Seventy-two Palm Beach and Martin county students win Pathfinder Scholarship Awards. Palm Beach Post. Sixth-graders at Suntree Elementary School in Melbourne publish a vocabulary book to raise money to buy the school a 3D printer. Florida Today. Jinji Martine, a Fort Myers High School student, is named one of 55 semi-finalists in a national Shakespeare competition. Fort Myers News-Press.

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