Florida schools roundup: Board pay, charters, Blaine Amendment and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

No end to board pay: The Constitution Revision Commission rejects a proposal to end pay for members of local school boards. A majority of the members expressed concerns that ending pay would limit the diversity of candidates, especially in poor and rural counties. “If you cannot work for free, you cannot be a school board member with this proposal,” St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson argued. Eight other proposed amendments will be discussed and voted on at a future meeting. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Charter school authorizers: A proposed amendment to create charter school authorizers other than local school boards is changed to allow outside entities to also start public schools. By state law, that authority to start free public schools largely rests with local school boards. Commission member Erika Donalds, who introduced the original proposal, backs the amendment, which was brought by Patricia Levesque. redefinED.

Blaine Amendment: Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero urges the Constitution Revision Commission to support a proposal that would end the prohibition against state money going to religious institutions, including schools. Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Cantero says the Blaine Amendment is likely to be declared unconstitutional. redefinED. News Service of Florida.

Flu concerns: The flu virus is sweeping the state with 107 outbreaks already reported. Ninety-four percent of those reports are from schools and health-care facilities. Baker, Bradford and Holmes counties have had elevated activity, according to the Florida Department of Health, and 46 of the state’s 67 counties are reporting increasing flu activity. Only Jackson County has reported no cases. Several school districts have sent warnings home to parents. Tampa Bay Times. WOKV. Keynoter. Gainesville Sun.

Charter graduation rates: The 14 charter high schools in Palm Beach County posted just a 50 percent graduation rate in 2017, according to district officials, but that’s a 10 percentage point gain over 2016. Five of the schools had graduation rates over 90 percent, and six saw their rates improve. Eight schools had rates of under 10 percent, but those are schools that enroll students who have already dropped out of school or are at risk of doing so. About 11 percent of the district’s 193,000 students attend charter schools Palm Beach Post.

Missing board member: Seminole County School Board member Jeffrey Bauer has not attended a board meeting in 10 months and has not taken part in any board business since February 2017. Bauer, 49, also no longer lives in the Casselberry home he lists on his voter registration form and with the school district. Bauer had a stroke in June 2016. He was elected in 2014, and his term ends this year. Orlando Sentinel.

Lessons from space: Science lessons that Christa McAuliffe intended to teach from space 32 years ago will now be given by teachers-turned-astronauts Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold from the International Space Station in the next few months. McAuliffe and six crew members died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986. U.S. News & World Report.

Tax hike proposed: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum says he wants to raise corporate taxes to rebuild the state’s public education system and give teachers raises. Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, says raising the corporate tax rate from 5.5 to 7.75 percent could generate about $1 billion a year to use for boosting starting pay for teachers to $50,000 and pay for school construction and repairs. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Teachers honored: Thirty Lee County teachers are chosen as finalists for the district’s teacher of the year award. Six will be selected to receive Golden Apple awards April 6. Fort Myers News-Press.

School overcrowding: New housing developments and growth projections have Okaloosa County school officials worried about the capacity of their schools. Assistant superintendent Steve Horton says he expects 500-600 new students for the 2018-2019 school year. “If we continue to grow at these numbers, or at even a higher rate because of the housing projections, it’s concerning in terms of our school capacity,” says school board chairman Lamar White. “We will have to look and see if there are ways to accommodate the growth.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Shelter reimbursement: The Flagler County School District is changing the way it calculates overtime in hopes of qualifying for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the overtime it paid to school employees who staffed school shelters during Hurricanes Irma and Michael. FEMA generally doesn’t reimburse overtime for salaried employees. Flagler officials say they are considering paying predetermined supplements to salaried staffers for shelter assignments because they believe FEMA would approve those. Daytona Beach News-Journal. For thousands of hourly Florida school employees, the closing of a school for an emergency means a loss of pay. WLRN.

Budget-cutting: The Hillsborough County School District is eliminating the jobs of three high-paid administrators, saving the district about $456,000 a year, not including benefits. Chief of staff Alberto Vazquez has taken a job in Connecticut and won’t be replaced. And the jobs of director of the Office of Outreach and School Improvement and assistant superintendent for educational access, opportunity and alternatives are being eliminated. Larry Sykes and Wynne Tye, who held those respective jobs, are eligible for reassignment to open jobs in July. Tampa Bay Times.

Controlling bids: The Sarasota County School Board is looking for ways to maintain control over bids that exceed original estimates, including requiring district officials to get the board’s approval before spending more than expected. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Open enrollment: Public schools around Florida are signing up students under the state’s open enrollment law, which allows all students to apply for enrollment in any school that has space for them. WUSF.

School turnaround: Leesburg High School had a 67 percent graduation rate in 2017, according to a state report. Principal Michael Randolph was hired in August to turn things around, and he started by letting students know they were expected to be in school every day and stay in their classes for the full period. Students are being tracked more closely, and have to immediately make up failed classes. Randolph is encouraged by the early results: Leesburg High finished tied for third-best in the county after the algebra 1 mid-year assessment exams. Daily Commercial.

Poll: public disengaged: A poll conducted by the University of North Florida indicates that a large number of Duval County parents have little or no knowledge of the school district’s leadership changes in the past year. Four in 10 residents don’t know the district is looking for a new superintendent, and more than 93 percent can’t name a single school board member. Florida Times-Union.

Non-Jews welcome: The K-5 Jewish Academy of Orlando is opening its door to non-Jews for the first time in its four decades as a day school. “We have a great school,” says head of school Alan Rusonik. “We just want more people in our community to know about it.” Orlando Sentinel.

Blame for suicide: A Panama City Beach couple say the Bay County School District is partly responsible for their 12-year-old daughter’s suicide. Shane and Tanya Green say their daughter Gabbie was bullied by her classmates through social media, and by her teachers. Panama City News Herald.

Virtual Spanish complaint: A Jacksonville parent who’s fluent in Spanish says her daughter’s advanced Spanish course in the Florida Virtual School is full of errors. Norma Martinez says school officials acknowledged the error. School officials say they “are currently reviewing the entire Spanish 3 course again, and as always, continuing to consider the varying Spanish dialects.” WJAX.

Ex-teacher sentenced: A former teacher at Carver Middle School in Leesburg is sentenced to 12 years in prison for soliciting sex with what he thought was a 12-year-old girl. Police also found a sexually explicit and violent video of an 18-month-old girl on the phone of Andres Fernando Cabezas, 34. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: It’s time for Floridians to step out of the Dark Ages with respect to the way we select our school superintendents. We must require so much more from potential candidates than that they merely live in the district and not be a felon or mentally incompetent. An appointive system is superior in several ways. TCPalm. Science education is under unprecedented assault here in the Sunshine State. It’s important to stand up in support of sound science education. Brandon Haught, Orlando Sentinel. Faced with a public relations hot potato in the midst of tough teacher raise negotiations, Brevard School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn wisely decided to donate his $3,300 raise. Florida Today. There are a few good reasons why the school board should place its tax renewal measure on the August primary election ballot instead of the November general election ballot. Unfortunately, those good reasons aren’t good enough. The question belongs on the November ballot, and here’s hoping the school board puts it there. Jim Ross, Ocala Star-Banner. We can and should do everything within our power to stop bullying in its tracks. But there is no reason to turn our backs on parents who face agonizing decisions on how to provide comfort to their schoolchildren who get caught up in vicious and life-altering attacks. State Rep. Byron Donalds, Naples Daily News. The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message last week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools. Tampa Bay Times. If there’s a silver lining to the awful vandalism at Horizon Elementary School, it’s the response from the community to help the school get back on its feet. Scott Kent, Daytona Beach News-Journal. We should warmly welcome our fellow U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico to our state and our schools. It is the right thing to do. State Rep. Bob Cortes, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Students at Southeast High School in Manatee County build a machine that builds machines that will turn out 1,000 toy wooden cars a month for soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division to hand to children in Afghanistan and other areas where they’re deployed. Bradenton Herald. The Jacksonville-based charter school network KIPP is partnering with Florida A&M University to develop programs to try to boost college graduation rates for KIPP alumni from educationally underserved communities. Tallahassee Democrat. Buddy Taylor Middle School 8th-grader Keelin Cowart-Goldberg wins the Flagler County spelling bee. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. The Lake County School District now has a free mobile app available that will give parents access to their childrens’ attendance, homework, test scores, grades, school calendars and more. Daily Commercial.

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