Florida schools roundup: Graduation rate up, charters, funding and more

Graduation rate rises: Florida’s high school graduation rate rose 1.6 percentage points in 2017, to 82.3 percent, according to figures released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education. The rate has gone up steadily since the 2006-2007 school year, when fewer than 60 percent of students got diplomas. Gilchrist County had the highest rate in the state, at 93.4 percent. Nassau and St. Johns were next at 90.9 percent, and Suwannee (90.5 percent) and St. Lucie (90.1 percent) were the other districts over 90 percent. Gadsden’s 50 percent rate was the lowest. Florida Department of Education. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelWTXL. Palm Beach County’s graduation rate jumps by almost 3 percentage points to hit an all-time high of 85 percent. Palm Beach Post. Boca News Now. Sun-Sentinel. Duval, Baker and Clay counties all show gains in their graduation rates, while Nassau’s and St. Johns’ drop slightly. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Escambia County’s graduate rate increases by 3.4 percentage points in the past two years, and Santa Rosa’s has gone up 0.7 percentage points. Pensacola News Journal. The high school graduation rate rises in St. Lucie County, but falls in Martin and Indian River counties. TCPalm. Graduation rates top 80 percent for the first time in all four Tampa Bay area counties: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WTSP. Polk County’s graduation rate jumped 3.6 percentage points, to 75.4 percent. Lakeland Ledger. The Manatee County graduation rate slips, but stays above 80 percent. Sarasota’s rises incrementally. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. SRQ Magazine. Alachua County’s graduation rate jumps 4.3 percentage points, to 82.7 percent. Gainesville Sun. The Bay County graduation rate dips more than 2 percentage points and is below 80 percent. Panama City News Herald.

Capital for charters: Florida charter schools will get $91.2 million from school districts as part of a capital funds sharing program approved by the Legislature last year. The money comes from local districts’ property taxes collected for building and maintaining schools. Districts with high debt service won’t have to share their funds. The fund-sharing is part of last year’s education bill, H.B. 7069Gradebook. The Flagler County School Board will vote next week on a mediation agreement that would require the district to share money with a charter school in the district. Imagine School at Town Center has been asking for money from the district since 2012. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Evaluating funding formula: A bill calling for the study of the formula the state uses to determine how much money each school district receives is approved by the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. The Florida Education Finance Program formula incorporates the Florida Price Level Index to add funding to districts in areas with a high cost of living. State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, the bill’s sponsor, says a fresh look at the index that helps determine the “district cost differential” is needed occasionally to make sure all its components are still relevant. Politico Florida.

Jewish school security: The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill allocating $2 million to increase security at Jewish day schools. The money would be used to harden building and equipment upgrades, fences, video access, ballistic glass, alarms and communication systems at 46 Jewish day schools around the state. Last year, after a rash of anti-Semitic threats around the United States, legislators approved $654,491 in funding for Jewish day schools. redefinED.

Scholarships bill: The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that would make it easier for parents of special needs children who use vouchers to attend private schools to update their evaluations. The evaluations are important because they’re tied to the funding the students receive. redefinED.

Instructional materials: The Florida House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee approves a bill that would switch the authority to approve school textbooks and instructional materials from the commissioner of the Department of Education to the state Board of Education. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says the change would result in “a smoother process for all stakeholders” while giving the public the opportunity to comment on school textbooks. Politico Florida.

Gun legislation questioned: St. Johns County school officials express concern about proposed legislation that would allow certain individuals to carry weapons in public schools. “I’m not convinced that having firearms in schools is the answer,” says Superintendent Tim Forson. “Just on the surface, I would be concerned about how this could be implemented.” St. Augustine Record.

Impact fees boosted: Orange and Seminole counties approve increases in impact fees for new housing. The changes boost the Orange County impact fees to $14,886 per house, including $8,784 for school construction. Seminole County boosted its education impact fee from $5,000 to $9,000 per home. The fees “are designed to meet the demands of new growth,” says Alan Marshall, deputy director of Orange County’s Department of Community, Environmental and Developmental Services. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendent gets a raise: At the same time the Brevard County School District and its teachers are at an impasse over pay raises, Superintendent Desmond Blackburn has received his second raise in a year. At a Dec. 12 meeting, the school board approved a $13,000 raise for Blackburn and a 1.5 percent increase for the district’s 790 non-union employees. Blackburn is one of those 790, and the 1.5 percent increase is his second raise in two months. Florida Today.

Teachers honored: Five finalists are chosen for the Marion County School District’s teacher of the year, and West Port High biology teacher Michael Hay Hartman is named rookie teacher of the year. The five finalists are: Norma Barnes, an exceptional student education teacher at West Port High; Helene Hotaling, 3rd-grade teacher at Madison Street Academy for the Performing Arts; Ingrid Johnson, a 6th-grade honors math teacher at North Marion Middle; Jeremy Rhoden, an agriculture teacher at Vanguard High; and Kathleen Williams, advanced English teacher at Lake Weir High. The winner will be announced Jan. 26. Ocala Star-Banner.

Rezoning issues: A Pasco County circuit judge strikes down school rezoning changes intended to relieve overcrowding at several schools in the west part of the county. Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd says some members of the advisory committee that made rezoning recommendations conducted some business in private, in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. School officials are expected to discuss their options at a meeting Tuesday. Gradebook. WFLA. The Clay County School Board adopts school boundaries for Discovery Oaks Elementary, which is scheduled to open in August. The new school was built to relieve overcrowding at Plantation Oaks Elementary and Oakleaf Junior High. Clay Today.

Class rankings: The Duval County School Board is considering a proposal to stop ranking students by grade point average or changing how it ranks them. District officials say they could initiate a percentile ranking system, or rank students by their place in the district rather than at a school. Current seniors would not be affected if any changes are made. WJCT. Florida Times-Union.

District’s finances: The Manatee County School District’s financial management is improving, according to a report from an auditor. The auditor noted a single deficiency, a $2.5 million payment that was attributed to fiscal year 2016 instead of 2017, when it actually occurred. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Problems with subs: Substitute teachers provided to the Hillsborough County School District by Kelly Educational Staffing have been caught sleeping on the job, calling children “idiots” and “retarded,” making sexually suggestive comments and stealing from school workers. While both Kelly and school officials say the reports are aberrations, Superintendent Jeff Eakins has asked the company to provide information about substitutes and employee discipline. Eakins says if Kelly doesn’t provide the information, it will be considered in violation of its contract. Tampa Bay Times.

School’s future: The Marion County NAACP and the Governor’s West Ocala Neighborhood Revitalization Council are urging the Marion County School District to reconsider its plans to close Evergreen Elementary School in June. The district announced it would close the struggling school, which has received state grades of D or F in each of the past five years, rather than turn it into a charter school or hire an outside company to run it. Ocala Star-Banner.

Classes on MLK Day: Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and most school districts will not have classes. School is in for Collier County students, though, because the school board agreed to hold classes to help make up time lost when Hurricane Irma hit the state. Naples Daily News.

Affordable housing: Two workshops will be held in Monroe County this month to discuss proposals to build 480 affordable rentals on land at Trumbo Point, the site of the school district’s headquarters, and elsewhere. Keynoter.

School program: The Hernando County School Board approves the opening this month of an alternative education program for girls. The PACE Center for Girls could accept as many as 50 girls between the ages of 11 and 17 who are struggling in traditional public schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Complaint against district: The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating a complaint from a veteran that alleges the Sarasota County School District broke the law by not interviewing a veteran for its communications manager position. Steve Valley, former communications director for the Manatee County School District, filed the complaint. The job went to Tracey Beeker. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Personnel moves: Pasco County School Board member Steve Luikart is retiring after two terms. He’ll stay on until after the Aug. 28 election for his seat. Gradebook. Michael and Kimberly Hoskinson, who were recently cleared of child abuse charges, will return to their former jobs in the Hillsborough County School District. Michael Hoskinson will resume his duties as principal at Coleman Middle School, and his wife returns to her job as an assistant teacher at Plant High School. Tampa Bay Times.

Dress codes extended: The Charlotte County School Board approves five-year extensions of school dress codes for Peace River and Sallie Jones elementary schools. Charlotte Sun.

Classroom wireless: The Brevard County School District plans to provide wireless capability in every district classroom by April, according to Russell Cheatham, the district’s chief information officer. Space Coast Daily.

Parents get a portal: The Bay County School District is signing up parents for its online Parent Portal, which allows parents to monitor their student’s attendance, grades and individual assignments. Panama City News Herald.

District switches carriers: The Lake County School District is switching mobile phone providers to save more than $30,000, or about $19,000 if the texting capability is added to the district’s 345 cell phones. Daily Commercial.

Ex-AD sentenced: The former athletic director at Palm Beach Gardens High School is sentenced to 18 months in prison and 42 months of probation after he pleaded guilty to video voyeurism, attempted promotion of sexual performance by a child and unlawful use of a two-way recording device. William Weed, 51, placed a remote-controlled camera in a clock to watch a 17-year-old girl and take nude photos of her. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher arrested: Kimberly Hellenburg, a 55-year-old teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary School in Citrus County, is arrested by sheriff’s deputies and charged with selling and possessing marijuana. Citrus County Chronicle. WFLA.

Student arrested: An 18-year-old William T. Dwyer High School student is being held under house arrest for bringing a foot-long knife to school and threatening another student. Palm Beach Post.

Ex-charter official killed: A former charter school executive who was accused of stealing money from the schools in 2016 is shot and killed during a confrontation with Lauderhill police officers. Trayvon Mitchell, 38, was suspected of an armed robbery, and was shot after police chased him into the backyard of a home in Lauderhill. Sun-Sentinel.

Coach removed: The football coach at Estero High School in Lee County is removed after an investigation into allegations that he mismanaged finances associated with the football and booster programs and falied to follow appropriate concussion protocol. Jeff Hanlon was reassigned to another school and is barred from handling money on behalf of the district. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: When I relocated from Washington, D.C. to Florida, I struggled to find schools that were rigorous in their instruction, included strong community and parental involvement, provided a diverse selection of extracurricular activities and offered the support services my children needed, in part because Florida’s ESSA plan lacks important information about funding and school accountability. Donna Fletcher, Pittsburgh Courier.

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