Florida schools roundup: State budget signed, safety in schools and more

Scott signs budget bill: Gov. Rick Scott signs the $88.7 billion state budget, dismissing pleas from Florida’s school superintendents for a special legislative session to increase funding for schools. The budget includes new money for K-12 schools, mostly for school security and mental health counseling for students, and a boost in the amount Bright Futures scholars receive. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouseCapitolist. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says legislative leaders are considering allowing school districts that don’t want to arm school personnel to use any money left over from the marshals program to hire resource officers. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. The new funding formula takes $56 million in state money that in the past would have gone to larger school districts and is redirecting it to smaller ones. Miami-Dade, for example, will receive $7 million less. Tampa Bay Times. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, criticizes the state’s school superintendents for complaining about the state’s K-12 spending, saying those who are “grossly mismanaging their budgets” should resign. Bradenton Herald. Scott vetoed a $1 million item for Okaloosa County schools to buy buses that would help ease traffic congestion near Hurlburt Field, headquarters for the Air Force Special Operations Command. Here’s a full list of the $64 million in projects that Scott vetoed. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School shooting developments: Mental health records show that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School officials were worried about Nikolas Cruz’s fascination with guns, and banned him from practicing his shooting with the Junior RTOC or carrying a backpack on campus 18 months before the massacre that killed 17 at the school. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. The Coconut Creek police officer who arrested Cruz describes his search and his shock when he found the accused school shooter. Sun-Sentinel. More than $4 million has been raised for the victims of the Parkland shooting and their families, and the Broward Education Foundation has appointed a steering committee to determine how to distribute the money and who will receive it. Sun-Sentinel. Deputies at Stoneman Douglas High are carrying AR-15 rifles at the school, but concealing them in backpacks so as not to alarm students. Sun-Sentinel. A Lighthouse Point man becomes the first person in Florida to have his firearms and ammunition seized under the state’s new law addressing gun restrictions and school safety. Sun-Sentinel. The fiancee of a teacher killed in the shootings still struggles to comprehend what happened. Palm Beach Post. A sculptor is planning a 15-foot memorial to the shooting victims at the Parkland school. Sun-Sentinel. Five Stoneman Douglas High shooting survivors appear on 60 Minutes and give Florida lawmakers a C or C-minus grade for their response to the tragedy. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Three other survivors take their message for increasing gun regulation to the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press.

School safety: About 75 percent of U.S. teachers oppose arming school staff, according to a Gallup poll. New York Times. Education Week. Experts say that stopping a school shooter is incredibly hard, even with years of training. Miami Herald. The Citrus County School Board and sheriff’s office agree they want more resource officers in schools, but have to decide how many and who will pay for them. Citrus County Chronicle. Okeechobee County School Board members express an interest in the guardian program to arm school personnel, but wants more feedback from the community before making a decision. Okeechobee News. The mother of a special-needs student says the Collier County School District needs a plan for those students during an emergency. WFTX. Hillsborough school officials hold a community meeting Wednesday to discuss school security and more. Gradebook. Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay tells the Marathon City Council that the new state law requiring a resource officer in every school doesn’t provide enough money to make it happen. Keynoter. The Key West Collegiate Academy charter high school introduces the use of School Text Tips, an anonymous text message hotline where students can report weapons, bullying, drugs and more to school faculty. Key West Citizen.

A resource officer’s day: Deputy JoAnn Jackson describes her day as a Seminole County School district resource officer at Sabal Point Elementary in Longwood, from active-shooter drills to getting pied in the face. Orlando Sentinel.

Teachers unions on edge: Teachers unions around the state are scrambling to keep membership rates at more than 50 percent of eligible employees to avoid decertification, as allowed in the new state education law. Tampa Bay Times.

Story behind a new law: A new Florida law cracking down on teachers who engage in sexual relationships with students, regardless of their age, was prompted by a 2017 case at Estero High School in Fort Myers. The new law mandates greater reporting of incidents and greater sharing of that information with the Florida Department of Education. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teachers to get notices: Manatee County teachers will be notified when one of their students has endured a traumatic physical or emotional experience that draws the attention of authorities under a new program called Handle With Care. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher honored: Chelsey McCurdy, a 2nd-grade teacher at Lost Lake Elementary School in Clermont, is named the Lake County School District’s rookie teacher of the year. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel.

Newpoint trial: Steven Kunkemoeller, an Ohio businessman who ran a school supplies company, is convicted of racketeering and organized fraud for overcharging Florida charter schools for furniture and supplies. Prosecutors allege that he conspired with Newport Education Partners LLC owner Marcus May to overcharge the schools and pocket the difference. Kunkemoeller faces 60 years in prison. Pensacola News Journal. Gradebook. Associated Press.

School tax vote: The special election to increase property taxes for schools in Manatee County has run into more opposition than a similar measure in Sarasota County. Both votes are Tuesday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District asks for extension: Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt will ask the state for another year to turn around Oscar Patterson Elementary School in Panama City. The school has received F grades from the state the past two years, and will fall under the state’s turnaround process if it doesn’t get a C or better this year. Panama City News Herald.

Board settles lawsuit: The Okaloosa County School Board votes to settle a lawsuit brought by two Baker School students who say they were racially harassed repeatedly. Last September, a federal judge ruled that there was enough evidence to support the lawsuit and that the case should be heard in court. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School start times: Most high schools in Pinellas County would start at 7:20 a.m. next year, under a proposal the school board will consider this week. Most elementary schools would start at 8:45, and most middle schools at 9:40. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: The Lee County School District has a tentative agreement with a new safety director, but won’t say who it is until he’s approved by the school board. The vote is expected March 27. Fort Myers News-Press.

School board elections: Julius A. Blazys, retired from a career in medical lab testing, is running for the District 3 seat of the Hernando County School Board. Also in the race is Jimmy Lodato. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher suspended: A literature teacher at Maclay High School, a private school in Tallahassee, is suspended for three days after a student writes the word “clit” in letters 2 feet tall on a classroom whiteboard. Suzanne Jamir had invited students to write feminist graffiti on the board to mark Women’s History Month. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher appeals firing: Lora Phillips Rankin, a former teacher at Wright Elementary School in Fort Walton Beach, is appealing her firing. Rankin was suspended, then fired on Feb. 12, for allegedly injuring a student’s arm. The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department and the Florida Department of Children and Families investigated the complaint, and both determined that there was abuse. The state attorney declined to file charges. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Weapons in schools: Hillsborough County had 128 incidents of weapons in schools in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education. That was the most of any district in the west-central Florida area, and about 7 percent of the state total of 1,786. WFLA.

A student’s threat: Since February, Indian Harbour Beach police have been investigating a student who said he wanted to be a school shooter and had a kill list at Ocean Breeze Elementary School. But police concluded there isn’t enough evidence to file charges. The student has been suspended. Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: For the sake of the families, and that of our community, we encourage the injured and the victims’ families to seriously consider the offer on the table to let Nikolas Cruz plead guilty and be sentenced to 34 life terms with no possibility of parole. Sun-Sentinel. When Gov. Rick Scott first proposed his budget, he suggested a $152-per-student funding increase — and that was before Parkland. So why would he settle for two-thirds as much, especially after the Parkland tragedy? Ocala Star-Banner. The question for our legislators is simply this: Is education no longer of the “paramount duty” that our state constitution says it is? R. Craig Ham, Ocala Star-Banner. We cannot let well-meaning platitudes obscure something more insidious about our culture: the belief that teachers will accept whatever they can get, and that a little appreciation will go a long way. Avni Vyas, Tallahassee Democrat. The need for a special 1-mill tax for schools in Manatee is clear. Florida underfunds education, the county has a large number of children from low-income families and Manatee doesn’t have philanthropic foundations pouring millions of dollars into programs. Yet there is opposition, much of it grounded in negativity and political orthodoxy. Tom Tryon, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Hundreds of teachers with years of experience in Lake County are making thousands of dollars less, on average, than a teacher with the same qualifications who just got hired. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. Despite all the laws and programs in place to expand options for Florida students and families, there really aren’t as many good choices as you might think. Lane Wright, the 74. Increased funding for Bright Futures scholarships is among the good ideas that was approved by the Legislature. Among the bad ideas that passed: new rules for K-12 schools. Tampa Bay Times. The school safety bill is more appeasement than an answer to the achingly tragic issue of kids killing kids. We can do better. St. Augustine Record. Higher education faculty members will have to step in to reverse Florida’s declining enrollment in high school physics classes. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: A coalition of community groups, including Living Hungry, Farm Share and the South Florida Hunger Coalition, vow to provide 1 million boxes of food to needy Palm Beach County students, starting over spring break. Palm Beach Post. More than 30 Orange County middle and high school students will travel to Puerto Rico during spring break to help with the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria. Orlando Sentinel. The Osceola Science Charter School gets $10,000 worth of STEM-related equipment and materials from Amazon. WKMG. Brianna Trecartin, a 17-year-old student at the Sarasota Military Academy, uses CPR to save her 16-year-old brother’s life after he collapsed of cardiac arrest. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Six Immokalee High School graduates now attend Saint John’s University, a Catholic liberal arts college in Minnesota, thanks to scholarships funded by two Naples men who are honoring their late wives. Naples Daily News.

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