Florida schools roundup: Capital for charter schools, a hack attack and more

Charter schools: Florida charter schools could get an extra $96.3 million from school districts that will now have to share the tax money they collect for capital projects, according to Florida House estimates. That’s nearly 7 percent of the money school districts could have after debt service is subtracted, as H.B. 7069 stipulates. The $96.3 million is a maximum  estimate, says Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Charter schools need to meet certain academic and financial standards and have been operating for two or more years to be eligible for the money. Miami-Dade and Broward will be among the districts hardest hit in sheer dollars, but tiny Sumter and Franklin counties will have the highest percentages of shared dollars, at 33 and 24 percent, respectively. Miami Herald. Manatee and Sarasota counties are two of the counties that will have share higher percentages of their capital funding with charter schools under the new education law. Sarasota is third in the state at 13.54 percent, and Manatee is 11th at 9.26 percent. Manatee School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will continue with plans to build three new schools, but the law could have an impact on smaller projects. Bradenton Herald. Wayman Academy of the Arts is one of five charter schools in Duval County to earn an A grade  from the state this year. The school, which draws its students from a poor neighborhood in Jacksonville, now has received every possible grade from the state in its 17-year existence. Florida Times-Union.

District hacked: The St. Lucie County School District’s Twitter account was hacked last week, and several racially charged messages were posted and stayed online for more than nine hours before being removed. The cyberattack was just one of several against school districts around the United States, according to St. Lucie School Superintendent Wayne Gent. School officials are unhappy with the difficulty they had contacting Twitter and its response time. “It took way too long,” Gent said. “It should’ve been done immediately.” TCPalm.

Fighting failure: As the 2016-2017 school year began, another first year of a rebuilding process began at Fairmount Park Elementary School. It had a new principal, new and inexperienced teachers, and a history of failure. Fairmount is located in a poor St. Petersburg neighborhood and in 2014, was one of five city elementary schools labeled a “failure factory.” But this year it had a plan, and better resources, and hope. Tampa Bay Times.

School transfers: More than 1,200 central Florida students will attend a school outside their attendance zones when the new school year begins next month. The transfers are the first under a new state law that allows students to attend any school in Florida that has space for them. Lake County approved 594 transfers, Orange 420, Seminole 189 and Osceola 88. Orlando Sentinel. Coaches and athletic directors brace for change with the new open-enrollment law. Student-athletes will have the same opportunities as all students to enroll in any school that has space for them. Bradenton Herald.

Testing troubles: A majority of the students at 29 struggling Duval County schools failed the Florida Standards Assessments reading and math tests this year. Ten of those schools did not improve their grades from the state, and could be closed or taken over by a charter company under the state’s new education law. Florida Times-Union.

Thefts from schools: Six years ago, the Palm Beach County School District vowed to tighten its security and procedures to make it more difficult for school treasurers to steal money. But two recent accusations of thefts totaling almost $90,000 over two years, and several other smaller ones between 2011 and 2015, are forcing district officials to again consider ways to keep school money safe. Among the suggestions: new security cameras pointed at every school safe, less cash in schools and new ways to track deposits at each safe. Palm Beach Post. Natalie Jean Jones is sentenced to seven years in prison for stealing about $108,000 between 2007 and 2014 from Southwest Middle School in Brevard County. Since the theft, and another one a few years later of $170,000, the district has added more surprise audits, better training for principals and is considering centralizing all school accounts at the district’s administrative offices. Florida Today.

Teacher stability: The exodus of teachers leaving struggling elementary schools in Marion County has virtually stopped. Just one teacher is requesting a transfer from one of the four lowest-performing schools, a significant reduction from previous years. School officials, teachers and union officials say more teachers are staying at their schools because they feel they have support and they are encouraged by the broad effort to improve. Ocala Star Banner.

Virtual education: An Ohio school district cancels a contract with a Florida virtual education company when the company began recruiting students before getting approval from school officials. The deal between the Mansfield (Ohio) School District and Online Education Ventures of Fort Lauderdale would have been the first online education contract for either group. The Florida Department of Education turned down OEV’s application to be an approved public virtual instruction provider in January 2016, according to the report. Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal.

Summer grants: For the first time since 2011, college students and recent high school graduates can use federal Pell Grants to help pay for summer classes. The U.S. Congress approved the extended use of the grants earlier this year. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent’s goals: After a month as Flagler County school superintendent, James Tager sets four priorities: improving the graduation rate, accelerating academic programs, helping students who are chronically absent or discipline problems, and getting teachers the training necessary to help students with special needs. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

District’s pool priority: Monroe County School Superintendent Mark Porter says the district is not opposed to having a community pool built on property it owns beside Marathon High School, as proposed by the Marathon City Council, but it does not want to be involved in the construction or operation of the pool. Keynoter.

School building roundabout: Nine roundabouts were approved in 2006 for Tower Road in Alachua County, but none was ever built. Now the Oak Hall School is building one on its own to make it easier for northbound drivers to exit the school. Gainesville Sun.

Student obesity: A Lake County Health Department study shows that obesity and drug use rates for the county’s middle and high school students are higher than for the state. Goals suggested in the study include public awareness campaigns, providing more parks and trails and recognizing and using helpful programs. Daily Commercial.

Academic program: The Collier County School District is expanding the use of the Cambridge learning programs to its elementary schools. The program was first introduced to county high schools in 2011, and middle schools last year. Its curriculum is aimed at developing critical thinking skills. Naples Daily News.

Personnel moves: Teresa Lantigua Peterson resigns after less than four months as communications and media officer for the Hillsborough County School District. Her replacement will be the fifth director in two years. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher/ninja: Morgan Wright, a physical education teacher at Diplomat Elementary School in Cape Coral, competes on American Ninja Warrior tonight on NBC. Wright, 43, will compete wearing his customary moose hat. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: Good things still happen in public schools. But they happen in spite of Florida politicians, not because of them. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. The flat-line state of Escambia’s school performance needs a shock to the system. It’s time for Escambia County officials to make some major changes to business as usual. There’s no longer an argument for a system that has consistently proven not to work. Pensacola News Journal. The progress of one struggling St. Petersburg elementary school shows what’s possible when a school district, principals, teachers, parents and students focus on improvement. It also tells state legislators that charter schools and vouchers are not the only way to improve student performance. Tampa Bay Times. If you believe in reforming Florida’s public school system, now is the time to get engaged in a renewed effort to save it. State Sen. Perry E. Thurston Jr., Sun Sentinel. Our issue with the new education bill is the short-term impact it has on planning and budgeting for the 2017-18 school year, and the long-term threat it poses to public education funding and local control. Lee County School Board member Cathleen Morgan, Fort Myers News-Press. The “right to work” without joining the union or paying dues is, for government workers, about to be tested in the Supreme Court once more in an appeal by a teacher named Janus. The decision seems likely to go against compulsory dues for government unions. John E. Coons, redefinED. The University of South Florida takes an interesting approach to the teacher shortage problem by offering scholarships to STEM majors in return for a commitment to teach at high-risk Florida schools. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. The Palm Beach County School District must act quickly to assure taxpayers that everything possible is being done to safeguard tens of thousands of dollars being funneled annually through schools for various programs. Palm Beach Post. The St. Lucie County School District will need to take a long, hard look at its security and response protocols after the hacking of the district’s Twitter account. Anthony Westbury, TCPalm. For the first time in more than half a decade, Marion County offers educational hope with its significant improvement in school grades from the state. Ocala Star Banner. CEO-style managing of the Marion County School District breaks the age-old model and is working. Jim Schneider, Ocala Star Banner. School grades show the progress made in Polk County schools, and how much work still needs to be done. Lakeland Ledger. To build on the success of this year, Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay and her team will have to find ways to give teachers the support and guidance they need while also holding them individually and collectively accountable for the performance of their students. Daily Commercial. For the first time, no Miami-Dade school received an F grade from the state. In fact, the only failure in the district’s good-news story is that of the state Legislature — again. For lawmakers’ sweeping law that will likely undermine hard-won gains like those in Miami-Dade, they have earned an F. Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: The Spanish River High School marching band will perform in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. Sun Sentinel. Jada Ford, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Mirror Lakes Elementary School in Fort Myers, self-publishes a children’s book entitled Happy Birthday Sapphire, about a donkey who realizes on her 12th birthday that she’s really a unicorn. Fort Myers News-Press. Twenty Lee County schools offer a “Fifth Quarter” summer reading program to help students at risk of summer learning loss. Fort Myers News-Press. A former mop closet at a Bradenton apartment complex is transformed by United Way of Manatee County into a reading room for students. Bradenton Herald. The Mosley High School band is one of six invited to play in the Miracle Mile Festival of Lights Parade in Chicago this November. Panama City News Herald.

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