Florida schools roundup: School property taxes, immigration and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Education budget: In his budget proposal, Gov. Rick Scott wants local school boards to keep property taxes at their current levels so rising property values can produce extra funds for school districts. Florida Education Secretary Pam Stewart concurs, saying it’s the only way districts can get the extra funds they need. But the Florida House balked at that suggestion last year, calling it a tax hike, and is expected to resist again when the Legislature convenes next month. Stewart says the districts need the extra money to supplement what they get from the state and help pay for the influx of students from Puerto Rico and other islands that were devastated by hurricanes. “We’d find ourselves unable to do that (get to the $7,497 per-student spending called for in Scott’s budget) if we didn’t leave the RLE (required local effort) at the current level,” she told members of a Senate education panel. News Service of FloridaWFSU. Florida Politics.

Puerto Rican migration: Quality education is one of the primary motivations for Puerto Rican families moving into Florida, and particularly central Florida, according to Orlando real estate consultant Jose Hoyos. “They say, ‘I am here because these public schools are like the private schools in Puerto Rico,’ ” he says. “They don’t mind working here for $10 an hour because their children are getting a good education.” The number of Puerto Ricans in five central Florida counties (Orange, Osceola, Hillsborough, Polk and Seminole) grew by more than 115,000 between 2010 and 2016, U.S. Census reports show. Orlando Sentinel.

Reporting sexual abuse: The Miami-Dade County School Board approves a program to help students at all grade levels to spot inappropriate sexual behavior, and how to report it, and to help parents spot signs of sexual abuse in their children. The board sets a February deadline for having a completed plan on classes and communication. Miami Herald.

Finding gifted students: Educators from Washington state are looking to the Miami-Dade School District as a model for increasing and diversifying the students who are accepted into gifted programs. Miami-Dade uses a two-tier system to determine gifted eligibility: middle-class and affluent students need IQ scores of at least 130, while low-income children or English-learners can get in with scores of 117 if they demonstrate creativity and academic achievement. Plan B was approved by the Florida Legislature in 1991, though not many districts use it because of the expense. Seattle Times.

School-sharing: A public elementary school will share its space next fall in Miami with a charter school. Poinciana Park Elementary’s 350 students and the KIPP Miami Sunrise Academy’s 200 will split the classrooms of the school near Liberty City equally, and share the cafeteria, playground and parking lot. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says the school had the space available. KIPP will lease the space for a year, then have the option of renewing annually for four more years. WLRN.

Administrators criticized: Marion County School Board member Bobby James criticizes district administrators after he learns through a newspaper story that a school principal had been suspended for a month. “If I hear about things in the newspaper (first), I can’t trust you,” James said at a board meeting. Superintendent Heidi Maier says she and her staff will try to do a better job of communicating with board members. Ocala Star-Banner.

Contract negotiations: Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes stokes the already bitter dispute between the district and its teachers over pay by complaining that spending hours listening to employee input into district decisions was “a lot of foolishness.” She’s been skewered on social media by teachers who have been offered an average $92 bonus instead of the $4,000 pay raises many of them were promised three years ago. Tampa Bay Times.

School water concerns: Tests show high levels of iron and copper in the water at Seminole Middle School in Pinellas County. Until district officials can find the cause and correct it, bottled water will be available for students and hot lunches will be brought in. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of copper can cause irritation, vomiting, diarrhea and, in extreme cases, death. No student has reported any illnesses. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: In the past 20 years, the Hillsborough County School District has received 251 charter school applications. The school board has approved 100 and denied 47. The rest were withdrawn or rejected before the board could vote. District charter schools director Jenna Hodgens gave the accounting to deflect public criticism that the board almost never denies an application. Gradebook. Orlando City Commissioner Sam Ings is criticizing the Orange County School Board for selling the historic Grand Avenue School to the city, which will convert it into a recreation center. Ings says the school would have been a perfect permanent location for the Nap Ford Community School, a charter school that will now have to find a new home. He says the district is treating Nap Ford as a competitor to the new K-12 school it’s building in the Parramore neighborhood. Orlando Sentinel.

Neighborhood schools: For many students who don’t get into magnet or fundamental programs in Pinellas County, neighborhood schools other the ones they’re zoned for are increasingly an attractive alternative. More than 1,400 Pinellas County students applied for and were assigned to those schools this year, according to school officials. Gradebook.

School of uncertainty: About 65 percent of the students at the RCMA Wimauma Academy in Hillsborough County are migrant workers, and many are undocumented. Today they live with the uncertainty of what will happen to them at the end of the six-month phase-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. So in that context, the strong academic performance of the charter school students is noteworthy. redefinED.

State board members: Terms end this month for three of the seven Florida Board of Education members, and Gov. Rick Scott has yet to say if they will be reappointed or replaced. Board chairwoman Marva Johnson, Andy Tuck and Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey end their first terms Dec. 31. The term of another member, Michael Olenick, expired almost a year ago but he’s stayed on the board. Twenty-seven people have applied for appointments, and Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone says applications are still being accepted. Gradebook.

Handling a complaint: Sarasota County School Board members say an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint filed against Superintendent Todd Bowden should be handled by a “disinterested third party” to ensure the integrity of the query. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student hit by car: A 12-year-old student is seriously hurt when she’s struck by a car as she got off a school bus in Pensacola. The driver sped off, but state troopers made an arrest a short time later. Laurel Peyton Lewis, 29, is accused of leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury and failure to stop for a school bus involving injury. Pensacola News Journal.

Student arrested: A 14-year-old student is arrested after making threats to kill or do bodily injury at a Putnam County school. Sheriff’s deputies did not name the school. Florida Times-Union.

Opinions on schools: There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers expect this year. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County teachers are right to feel that by not getting the raises they were promised, they are being forced to pay for district mismanagement that goes back to the last superintendent’s era. How will they ever believe anything the schools board tells them in the future? Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. If there are flaws in H.B. 7069, by all means, fix them. What concerns me is the idea that helping charters somehow undermines Florida schools. I don’t understand why there is such resistance to providing Florida parents the education option best for their children. Jennifer Fong, Fort Myers News-Press. Given what my daughter went through, I think it’s ridiculous anybody would oppose the state’s proposal to offer scholarships to bullied students. Elsi Greciano, Orlando Sentinel. Panelists at Thursday’s meeting of the Florida House’s PreK-12 Innovation Committee suggested that the state should invest in improving oversight of safety and financial issues in the tax credit scholarship program. However, they resisted academic reforms, arguing that the wide variation in the effectiveness of instructional practices and the qualifications of instructional staff was a feature of the program and not a bug. (Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program). Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: East Ridge High School junior Chloe McLean wins two Emmy awards at the Suncoast Regional Emmy Awards. The Lake County 16-year-old won for TV episodes on geocaching and farm-to-table programs for schools for The Outsiders Club, a program that airs on Florida ABC affiliates. Daily Commercial. Pasco County middle school students study biodiversity in a river at the Cross Bar Ranch Environmental Education Center. Tampa Bay Times. Eighteen Sarasota County science students dissect cow eyes in a collaborative program between the district and Florida State University’s College of Medicine. The program is intended to get lower-income students interested in science careers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Two foundations commit $1 million over five years to provide an online search platform connecting teachers, principals, parents and students with experiential learning “explorations.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More than 400 mentors have now signed up for Bay County’s Elevate Bay program, which has a goal of putting 1,000 mentors into classrooms by the end of the school year. Panama City News Herald.

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