Florida schools roundup: School security plans, budget blues and more

School security: The Sarasota County School Board approves a plan to create an internal school security department over the next two years. The plan, which would cost the district $3.1 million, calls for hiring 30 officers and placing them in elementary schools for the 2018-2019 school year, and adding 26 more the following year and putting them in middle and high schools. Superintendent Todd Bowden proposes negotiating with local law enforcement agencies to provide coverage in middle and high schools for 2018-2019, which could cost as much as another $2.5 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. YourObserver.com. Both the Duval and Pasco school districts are considering plans to place safety “assistants” in elementary schools as a less-costly alternative to using sworn school resource officers. These assistants would receive less training and be paid less than SROs, and work only when schools are in session. Florida Times-UnionWJCT. WJXT. Gradebook. The Volusia County School Board is asking the county council for $2 million to help put a resource officer in every school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Putnam County School Board members delay a decision on arming school employees until May 1 to wait for a recommendation from a school advisory committee. WJXT. Students are among about 50 people protesting against Brevard County School Board members who want to consider arming school employees. Florida Today. Broward County school officials are hosting the first of several school safety forums tonight. WLRN.

Budget problems: The Duval County School Board is facing a $62 million deficit in its $1.7 billion budget for next year, districts officials say. Last year the district dipped into its reserves to cover a $23 million deficit. Interim Superintendent Patricia Willis says overspending, higher costs for security, transportation, raises and money to charter schools are contributing to the deficit, and she’s asking department heads to look for 5 percent savings in their budgets. Florida Times-Union. Broward County school officials say they’re facing a budget deficit of nearly $15 million for the next school year, and are considering asking voters for an additional half-mill in property taxes so teachers can get raises. If approved by the school board, the tax measure would go on the November ballot. Officials estimate it would raise $93 million a year over its four-year life. Sun-Sentinel. Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to trim $2.1 million from the district’s budget by eliminating non-teaching positions in administration and support services. Daily Commercial.

Alternative tests: New rules that would toughen alternative exams some students use to qualify for graduation will be delayed, the Florida Department of Education now says. The DOE said last month that starting Aug. 1, the passing standards would be raised for those alternative tests, taken by students who don’t pass the Florida Standards Assessments. School districts around the state predicted huge declines in graduation rates, and argued it was unfair to change the rules for students already in high school. The new standards will now begin for the class of 2022. Orlando SentinelGradebook.

Education court fight: Lawyers for the state are asking the Florida Supreme Court to reject an appeal by a group that alleges the state is not meeting the constitutional requirement to provide a “high-quality” system of public schools. State attorneys say the group, Citizens for Strong Schools, has failed to define standards to measure the education system. The plaintiffs also contend that the McKay scholarship program for students with special needs is unconstitutional. The state argues that even granting a review of the lawsuit would put a cloud over that program. The state has already won in a Leon County circuit court and the 1st District Court of Appeal. News Service of Florida. redefinED.

Education amendments: Some political observers think having 13 constitutional amendments on the November ballot could drive voters to the polls and help influence the outcome of high-profile races, such as the battles for a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office. One of those amendments asks voters to set eight-year term limits on school board members, give the authority to approve charter schools to an entity other than local school boards, and require civics to be taught in public schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School shooting developments: The first lawsuit is filed from the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Survivor Anthony Borges and his parents are suing confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, the estate of his late mother, the couple who took Cruz in, and several mental health facilities that treated Cruz. Six-month notices are required before lawsuits against state agencies, such as the Broward County School District and sheriff’s office, can be filed. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie says Cruz refused mental health services when he turned 18, and federal law prohibited the district from forcing Cruz to attend a school for students with special needs. Sun-Sentinel. There was so much confusion on the Stoneman Douglas campus during the shooting that several officers stormed the wrong building looking for the shooter, according to an account by a Margate police officer. Sun-Sentinel. The Community Foundation of Broward is providing the school district with a $3 million grant as a measure to prevent future school shootings. The money will be used to place two employees at 10 middle schools to give struggling students moral and academic support. Sun-Sentinel.

Preschool in Florida: Florida ranks second in the United States in the number of children enrolled in preschool but is only 42nd in the amount of money spent per child, according to the annual State of Preschool Report released by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

District helping charter: Palm Beach County school officials have fought against giving charter schools money for construction and upkeep, and even sued the state last year over the payments. But now it’s planning to spend $15 million to renovate the soon-to-be-vacated Odyssey Middle School for SouthTech Academy, a charter high school specializing in technical and career education. Officials say state law requires districts to allow conversion schools to use facilities rent-free. Palm Beach Post.

Board member apologizes: Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson makes a public apology at a board meeting for demeaning some of his colleagues, undercutting Superintendent Todd Bowden and sending text messages that contradicted board policy on school security. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Audit concerns district: Alachua County school officials worry about the timing of a new state law requiring an audit 60 days before a sales tax initiative. The district is asking voters in November to approve a half-cent higher sales tax. “We don’t have any problem with an audit,” says Superintendent Karen Clarke. “Our concern is with the timing. We just want to know that the state can get this done in time for the November election.” Gainesville Sun.

Contract negotiations: A special magistrate will hold a hearing next week to consider both sides of the contract dispute between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers union. The union declared an impasse after the district said it could not honor a 2013 commitment on teacher raises. Gradebook.

Teacher evaluations: Pasco County teachers union officials say they are concerned that many teachers still have not received their evaluations for the year even as many schools are already making reappointments for next year. Gradebook.

Standards-based grades: Boulware Springs Charter School principal Kay Abbitt talks about how the Gainesville school began a standards-based report card, and how it’s working. In the system, students are graded on a scale of 1-4 instead of with letter grades, with 1 being the lowest. Some subjects are broken into several parts, so that a report card could be as long as 11 pages. redefinED.

School dress codes: A braless Bradenton student whose school forced her to put bandages over her nipples is part of a wider national pushback against school dress codes that are seen as arbitrary and discriminatory. New York Times.

Charter signup extension: The city of Waldo is 12 students short of its goal of 100 needed to open a K-5 charter school in the old Waldo Community School building, and is extending the sign-up deadline by a week. WUFT.

Teacher suspended: A Port St. Joe Elementary School teacher is suspended without pay for the rest of the school year for alleged misconduct. School officials say 4th-grade teacher Krissy Gentry left her room unattended for 30 minutes, used her cell phone during class, showed students videos of media coverage of the Parkland school shooting – which had been forbidden by school officials – and held discussions about guns, then told her students not to tell their parents or the principal. WMBB.

Students arrested: A student at Bayside High School in Brevard County is arrested for bringing a gun to school, according to police officers. Florida Today. A 16-year-old Springstead High School student is arrested after he threatened to set off an explosive at Central High School, according to Hernando County sheriff’s deputies. Tampa Bay Times. A 14-year-old student is arrested for threatening New Smyrna Beach Middle School, according to Volusia County sheriff’s deputies. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: A new law that exempts private K-12 schools from paying for students who are taking college classes while in high school places an unfair burden on state colleges. Citrus County Chronicle.

Student enrichment: Florida Atlantic University receives a $1 million grant from the owners of a health-care technology company to upgrade science programs and help build a new facility for its K-12 schools. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

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