Florida schools roundup: Test questions, exams weighting, security and more

Test investigation requested: Two members of Florida school districts and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members are calling for an investigation of significant decreases in the number of students from Duval, Manatee and Polk counties who took the state’s civics end-of-course exams. Polk had 3,736 fewer 7th-grade students take the exam this year, Duval 2,910 and Manatee almost 1,000, and all three districts had significantly higher pass rates. Sarasota board member Bridget Ziegler, Duval board member Scott Shine want the state to hold up the release of school grades until the issue is investigated. Manatee County Superintendent Diana Greene says her district simply allowed 7th-graders who struggle with reading to delay taking the test until 8th grade, as the state permits districts to do. “Don’t try to act like we did something wrong,” says Greene. Duval school officials also deny any impropriety. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Times-UnionFlorida Politics. WJCT.

Weighting for grades: By state law, end-of-course exams must constitute 30 percent of a student’s final course grade. But different districts apply the law in different ways, and now Levy County Superintendent Jeff Edison is pressing state officials to specifically define what constitutes 30 percent of a student’s final course grade. “What we would like to be able to do is get the [lawmakers] to allow the Department of Education to have the rule-making authority to create a consistent definition of what 30 percent is,” says Edison. “Give us a uniform way of applying it. It doesn’t matter to us [what it is]. We just want it the same.” Gradebook.

School security: Broward County school officials are advertising for “armed safe school officers” to guard schools that don’t have sworn resource officers. They expect to hire about 80 such officers for the approximately 70 schools that do not already have resource officers. Hiring the officers instead of resource officers will save the district between $4 million and $8 million. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. WSVN. After previously saying he would no longer split the costs of providing resource officers to Sarasota schools, Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight has tentatively agreed to pay 20 percent of the nearly $1.6 million cost for 14 officers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Citrus County school officials are threatening to withhold payment to the sheriff over a dispute on providing resource officers for summer school. The district maintains the contract calls for police coverage any time schools are in session. Sheriff’s officials disagree, and say summer school was never mentioned during contract discussions. Citrus County Chronicle. Tampa Bay area school officials talk about their plans to comply with the state’s requirement to have an armed guard in every school. WUSF.

Tax hike target: If Broward County voters approve an increase in property taxes for schools on Aug. 28, about $66 million of the $93 million a year it’s expected to generate will go toward raises for teachers and other employees. About $18.6 million would be used for school security, and about $7.4 million would be used for essential school programs and additional guidance counselors, social workers and behavioral staff. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher pay campaign: The state’s largest teachers union is asking candidates and legislators to sign a pledge to boost teacher pay to the national average by 2023. Florida’s average teacher pay of $47,267 in 2017 is 45th in the nation, and more than $12,000 below the national average of $59,660. “Make us average, at least” is the theme of the Florida Education Association’s campaign. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Florida Politics. GateHouse. News Service of Florida.

Budget problems: Despite a report that projects the Hillsborough County School District to have a $70 million budget deficit in the next school year, Superintendent Jeff Eakins says enough jobs and other expenses will be cut to narrow the deficit to about $3.6 million this year. By the end of 2019, Eakins says, the district will have eliminated about 1,900 jobs. The district is considering asking voters for an increase in taxes, but that requires a state audit, so any election could be six months or more away. Tampa Bay Times. Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt invites state legislators to a budget workshop so they can hear first-hand how their policies affect decision-making. “Today has been very enlightening …” said State Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City. “These are things that we know, we just don’t know how important they are.” Panama City News Herald.

Superintendent’s firing: Hernando County School Board members voted to fire Superintendent Lori Romano on June 12 because of her “ineffective leadership” and communication problems, according to the termination letter released this week. The letter specifically references Romano’s decision to fire all 47 teachers at the struggling Moton Elementary School without telling the board, and her attempts to block a districtwide survey to evaluate her performance. Gradebook. The Hernando board also approved the hiring of John Stratton, executive director of business services for the district, to replace Romano temporarily as the board begins the search for a permanent superintendent. Stratton, 52, has been with the district since 2005. Gradebook.

Superintendent search: The Manatee County School Board may look outside the district for its new superintendent. A proposed contract for interim Superintendent Cynthia Saunders, who has been deputy superintendent of instructional services, prohibits her from applying for or being appointed as the permanent superintendent. Saunders still has to review and approve the proposed contract, which would pay her $15,500 a month starting July 1. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Mental health services: Volusia County school officials propose hiring 16 employees to provide additional mental health services to students. Four teams would be established with each getting a licensed mental health provider, a licensed school social worker and a school psychologist. Other hires would be a district mental health specialist, two certified addiction specialists and a service analyst. The school board is expected to vote on the plan at its July 24 meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Virtual deal questioned: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend is asking the state attorney to investigate a $1.8 million sales quote given in 2017 to the district by K-12 Inc. for an online school program. Townsend says the “spotty and woefully incomplete account” of the attempted transaction merits an investigation. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says the transaction was never completed because it didn’t comply with the district’s allowed procedure. Lakeland Ledger.

Lab school proposed: Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins and Florida Gulf Coast University President Mike Martin are proposing to create a pre-K-12 lab school model in the Estero area that would train students who want to be teachers and serve as a place where veteran teachers can experiment with different instructional techniques. Fort Myers News-Press.

Foreign languages: The Palm Beach County School District will introduce classes in Italian, Japanese, French and Chinese for elementary school students starting in August, and the courses will be extended into middle and high schools. The district also offers Spanish and American Sign Language, and a few schools have Chinese, Latin and Haitian creole classes. Sun-Sentinel.

School board elections: Candidates for the Manatee County School Board detail how they would approach school security and the hiring of a new superintendent. Bradenton Herald. Four candidates qualify to compete for the District 1 seat on the Holmes County School Board, and three will contend for the District 5 spot. Holmes County Times Advertiser.

Personnel moves: Ashley Toll, the assistant principal at Meadowlane Intermediate in West Melbourne, is named principal at Turner Elementary School in Palm Bay. Space Coast Daily. Frank Brogan, former Florida lieutenant governor and education commissioner, is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be the Department of Education’s assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education. News Service of FloridaEducation Week. The charter school Sarasota Military Academy names C.J. Bannister as chief development officer for the newly formed Sarasota Military Academy Foundation Inc. Mainspring Communications. Earl Hankerson, the athletic director at Tallahassee’s Rickards High School for the past seven years, has been removed by principal Douglas Cook, who cited “philosophical differences” in making the decision. Hankerson will continue working at Rickards as the college readiness program coordinator. Tallahassee Democrat.

Arts teachers selected: Four Florida public school arts teachers are chosen as winners in the 2018 State Teacher/Artist Residency program. They receive three weeks at the Hermitage in Englewood to work on their own art. Selected were Marissa Flint from Brevard County, Rosemary Shaw from Palm Beach County, Travis Damato from Hillsborough County and Laura Tan from Miami-Dade County. SRQ Magazine.

District switches health care: The Bay County School District is hiring PanCare of Florida to provide health services at all K-12 schools. It had contracted with the Florida Department of Health in Bay County, which will continue to oversee immunizations, hearing and vision screenings and other services required under Florida law. WMBB.

School getting new paint: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will get a free paint job from an alum. South Florida Stucco & Exteriors, whose president is Jay Presser graduated from the school, will repaint the exterior with paint provided by Sherwin-Williams. Presser says the work should be done by the end of this year. Sun-Sentinel.

Schools as shelters: Sumter school and county officials agree to a deal to use Sumter County schools as pet-friendly emergency evacuation shelters. School employees would manage the shelters, and be reimbursed by the county. Daily Commercial.

Kindergarten preparation: The nonprofit Winter Haven Public Education Partnership creates a website that it hopes will help parents get their children prepared for kindergarten. “About 40 percent of kids aren’t ready for kindergarten, and of those 40 percent, 70 percent will never catch up,” says Peter Verrill, a retired gynecologist who is a member of the committee. Lakeland Ledger.

Ethics query requested: An advocate for disabled children is requesting the state Commission on Ethics investigate two Hillsborough County School Board members for making insensitive comments on Facebook. Karen Clay says board members Lynn Gray and Melissa Snively mocked another activist’s concerns about disabled students who have died. WFLA.

Monitors fired: Andrew Medina and David Taylor, two coaches and security monitors criticized for their inaction when a school shooter walked onto the Stoneman Douglas High campus, won’t be rehired for the 2018-2019 school year. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers targeted: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says teachers were targeted by a Boynton Beach debt relief company that offered, for a fee, to help them ask for student loan forgiveness but did not follow through. Bondi filed suit against Integrity Group US Inc., OnlineStudentLoan.org Inc., StudentsLoanServices.org Inc. and Thomas H. Rohan. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher arrested: A Palm Beach County teacher is arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill. Police say Bradley Barfield, a 37-year-old drama teacher at the A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, pointed a butter knife at a woman during a dispute in a Jupiter apartment. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: The Palm Beach County School District is willing to shoulder the burden of expanding its police force to protect students and schools. The public will have to do its share by agreeing to provide the funds that are needed, and then hold school officials accountable for how well they keep the campuses safe. Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: Sought Florida high school students talk about leadership and being role models during the ninth University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute Student Leadership Day. Miami Herald.

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