Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, true costs, safe schools and more

Teacher pay: Prospects for a statewide $200 million raise in pay for teachers have dimmed after proponent Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he is no longer pursuing the hike. Instead, Simmons says, he is backing an expansion of the teacher bonuses program, known as the Best and Bright Teacher Scholarship. Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would increase the money for bonuses and widen eligibility. Naples Daily News.

Public education spending: The true cost of educating one public school student in Florida for a year is $10,308, according to a report from Florida TaxWatch. The Florida Education Finance Program funding formula expenditure was $7,178 per student for the 2015-2016 school year. But TaxWatch says other tax dollars spent by districts take the total spending per student to more than $10,000. redefinED.

Protecting undocumented: The Miami-Dade County School Board declares its district a safe zone for undocumented immigrant students, and will review what else it can do to protect those students from U.S. immigration officials. The intent, says board member Lubby Navarro, is “to ensure that our schools are safe havens for all students and that this message resonates throughout entire communities, our neighborhoods, our barrios, so that everyone knows that our schools are safe for our children and our families.” Miami Herald.

Teacher program: The Palm Beach County School District and Nova Southeastern University will partner to create a teacher-training program that promises students jobs in the district after graduation. Students will be paid substitute teachers during their senior year at Nova, and will be offered fulltime teaching positions when they graduate as long as they meet certification and other requirements. Nova is hoping to enter into similar partnerships with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sun-Sentinel.

Guns at schools: A Florida House subcommittee approves a bill that would exempt certain religious private schools from a state law that prohibits  anyone other than law enforcement officers from carrying guns in K-12 schools. Miami Herald.

Testing bill criticized: Several education and parent groups are criticizing House Bill 773, nicknamed the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill, for a misleading title and because they think the bill could mean more students being detained. Sunshine State News.

Recess concerns: Miami-Dade and Broward counties are two of just 11 school districts in the state that have defined recess policies. Yet teachers in those districts say students often go for weeks without getting a recess. Teachers will sometimes withhold it for misbehavior, even though that’s a violation of the policies, or skip it when they fall behind in a core class. WLRN.

Financial literacy bill: The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K-12 Education passes a bill requiring high school students to take a course in personal financial literacy and money management. Florida Politics.

Software deal: A two-year investigation by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office finds no criminal wrongdoing by school officials in the botched software purchase that cost taxpayers nearly $6 million. The district bought the business software from Winter Park-based Educational Data Resources in 2013 without putting the purchase out for bids or having the contract reviewed by its lawyers, and never received a fully functional system. Florida Today.

Student information: The Polk County School Board approves spending $4.1 million over five years for a new student information software system. The current system is outdated and a security risk, school officials say. Lakeland Ledger.

Busing cutbacks: Martin County school officials are eliminating 98 bus stops within 2 miles of schools. Funding for those routes is being cut by the state after changes in the law revised the definition of “hazardous walking conditions” for students who live closer than 2 miles to their school, says Superintendent Laurie Gaylord. TCPalm.

Charter school applications: The number of groups applying to open charter schools is declining across the United States and in Florida, according to a report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. redefinED.

Zoning dispute: For the second time in a month, Pasco County parents try to convince a state hearing officer that the school board improperly approved a plan to redraw attendance zones for several schools. A ruling is expected this spring. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment: Thirty-nine Pasco County schools are closed to student transfers under the state’s new open enrollment law, according to the final projected capacity list of district officials. Any school expected to be 90 percent or more filled will not be open to transfers. That’s seven of 14 high schools, seven of 14 middle schools and 25 of 49 elementary schools. Here is the list of closed schools. Gradebook.

Charter school approved: The Bay County School Board approves a contract for a new charter school, Palm Bay Elementary School. About 200 students in grades K-5 are expected when the school opens in August. The school is part of the Palm Bay Education Group, which operates Palm Bay Prep Academy for grades 6-12. Panama City News Herald.

Food distribution: Manatee County school officials say the district will distribute food for needy students from a food bus during spring break next week. Bradenton Herald.

Educators, schools honored: Eleven Gulf County teachers are named “high impact” teachers by the Florida Department of Education. Port St. Joe Star. Ten Clay County schools are honored as “Champions of Change” by Superintendent Addison Davis. Clay Today. At Wednesday’s Palm Beach County School Board meeting, teacher Betty Wells honors Superintendent Robert Avossa and the school board for their efforts to improve the county’s schools. Palm Beach Post.

Principal movement: Eleven Pasco County schools have gotten new principals since January, and parents and one school board member say the mid-year moves may pose a risk to the schools’ climate and academic performance. “Would I like to make all principal moves at the end of the school year? Possibly,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. “But there’s also a lot of preparation that goes on for the next school year at the end of the current school year.” Tampa Bay Times.

Shooting near school: A 16-year-old student is arrested and accused of shooting a classmate, also 16, a block from Seminole High School in Sanford shortly after dismissal. The injuries are not thought to be life-threatening. Orlando Sentinel.

Bookkeeper charged: The former bookkeeper at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne is accused of embezzling $97,000 from the school over two years and spending it on vacations. Patricia Coleman, 50, resigned Sept. 2 when an investigation began. Florida Today.

School fight: A school police officer uses pepper spray to break up a fight that broke out among several students after lunch at Meadow Woods Middle School in Orlando. One student was taken to a hospital for observation, and seven others were treated at the scene. Orlando Sentinel.

Noose found at school: Students and staff find a noose near the entrance of Gotha Middle School in Windermere. In a message to parents, principal Patrice Knowles said: “The person or persons responsible for this will be prosecuted to the full extent of law.” Orlando Sentinel.

Paraprofessional suspended: A paraprofessional at Yulee Primary School was suspended after being accused of abusing a 9-year-old boy with Down Syndome. When Tammy Youngblood’s suspension ended, she was transferred to another school and will no longer be working with special needs students. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: The Broward County School Board’s resolution declaring their schools safe zones for undocumented immigrant students is symbolic, but in today’s climate of fear, symbolism is important. Sun-Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Vrinda Madan, a 17-year-old senior at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, wins $50,000 by finishing ninth of 1,700 entrants in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, a national science competition. Madan studied 24 potential compounds for the treatment of malaria, and found two that are promising in treating the disease. Orlando Sentinel. Joshua Timmer, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at St. Anne’s Catholic School in West Palm Beach, creates workouts for his fellow students as part of the Palm Healthcare Foundation Inc.’s Let’s Move initiative. Palm Beach Post. Eleven Holocaust survivors share their stories with eighth-graders at the Meyer Academy in Palm Beach Gardens. Palm Beach Post. Two Viera High School teachers get their heads shaved after students collect $2,500 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money to help find cures for children with cancer. Florida Today. Third-grader Norah McVicker starts a running club at the Sarasota Suncoast Academy. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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