Florida schools roundup: School costs, repairs, absenteeism, eclipse and more

School costs rise: Lee County school officials are asking the school board to approve an additional $13.9 million to build Bonita Springs High School. The board approved a budget of $49.9 million in April 2016, but the latest estimate of the final cost is $84.9 million. School officials blame a labor shortage, rising costs and changes to the design of the school, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018. Fort Myers News-Press.

School repairs: Marion County school officials say they will receive $164.38 million over the next five years for school repairs to their 51 schools and district offices. But the latest estimate of the cost of all the needed repairs is $530.25 million, leaving the district $365.87 million short. “Our state Legislature has dropped the ball.” says Lake Weir Middle School principal David Ellers. “They are not taking care of the kids.” Ocala Star-Banner. Sarasota County School Board members say they were taken by surprise by renovations planned for the district’s administrative offices. Superintendent Todd Bowden says the work is part of the staff reorganization he proposed in March, and well within the budget the board approved. Board member Eric Robinson says it was unclear what the board was approving. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student absenteeism: The rate of Duval County students considered chronically absent doubled during the 2015-2016 school year. The rate has usually been 6-7 percent of students who miss 21 or more days a month of school, school officials say, but rose to more than 12 percent last year. School board members were shocked by the spike, and asked interim Superintendent Paula Wright to investigate. Florida Times-Union. Chronic absenteeism is also a problem in Palm Beach County, says school board member Erika Whitfield. She says there’s a clear correlation between attending school and graduating. “If we can’t get our students to school on time or to be there, how are we ever going to teach them?” she asks. Palm Beach Post.

Eclipse schedules: School districts around the state are deciding if their students will be permitted to view the solar eclipse Monday, and if they will be, how they might do so safely. TCPalm. Northwest Florida Daily News. Citrus County ChronicleSt. Augustine Record. WUSF. WKRG. WPTV. Cape Coral Daily Breeze.

Back to school: More from districts around Florida that have returned to school or will soon. Tampa Bay Times. Panama City News Herald.

Teleconferencing: The Miami-Dade County School District is introducing an online conferencing option for parents of gifted students or those with special needs at nine schools who travel or just can’t get to school to meet with their children’s teachers. The tool could be expanded next year. Miami Herald.

Private schools: The number of private schools and private school teachers were up in the United States in the 2015-2016 school year, but the number of students in private schools declined by 9 percent, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Education. redefinED.

School properties: Palm Beach County commissioners say a developer’s offer of land and money for a school in exchange for approval to build houses in the agricultural reserve won’t affect their decision on the request. The agricultural reserve is 22,000 acres of land west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach that is set aside for farming and conservation. The school board has said it would accept the deal if the commission approves the homes. Palm Beach Post. The Lake County School Board agrees to sell the old Dabney Elementary School site in Leesburg to a developer for $820,000. The school closed in 2008 and was torn down in 2015. Daily Commercial.

Culture initiative: Some parents of students at Deer Park Elementary School in New Port Richey are angry about a sign at the school that they say equates conforming to peer pressure as a positive behavior and running in school as a negative one. The sign was ordered removed by Superintendent Kurt Browning at least until the school holds a meeting for parents to explain its new behavior expectation philosophy. Gradebook.

Teacher accused: A parent is angry that a Carter G. Woodson Elementary School teacher still has not been disciplined for calling her daughter and two other students rats last May. The teacher, Jordan Cataldo, is white, and the students are black. Duval County school officials say the investigation is continuing. Florida Times-Union.

Parent banned from school: A parent has been banned from Lawton Chiles Middle Academy for posting social media comments that school officials took as threats. Chris Stephenson was angry about a proposed school fund-raiser that offered students a chance to cut to the front of the lunch line if their parents donated $100 to the PTA. The fund-raiser was killed after parents complained. Lakeland Ledger. WTSP.

Opinions on schools: It’s time for the Pinellas County School District to join other districts in a lawsuit aimed at putting a stop to the micromanaging from Tallahassee. Tampa Bay Times. There’s nothing racist about parents who want school choice for their children. Rev. H.K. Matthews, Fox News. Some people tax credit scholarships as an affront to public schools. But I can’t understand why anyone would object to empowering low-income parents to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs. Frank O’Harroll, Lakeland Ledger.

Student enrichment: Two “comfort” dogs have been assigned to Greenwood Lakes Middle and Bear Lake Elementary schools by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department. The pilot program is aimed at relieving students’ stress and anxiety. WKMG. Three marine science touch tanks and 600 solar panels are installed at the Out-of-Door Academy elementary school in Sarasota to provide educational opportunities for students and improve sustainability. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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