Florida schools roundup: Scholarships review, video release, security and more

Scholarships review: Florida’s most disadvantaged students continue to make solid academic gains through use of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, according to the latest annual evaluation of standardized test results released by the Florida Department of Education. Students on scholarships were “relatively more disadvantaged and lower-performing prior to entering the … program,” concluded the researchers from the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University, yet once on the scholarship, the students “maintain his or her relative position in comparison with all students nationally in both reading and math.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit program, which is the largest in the country, as well as Gardiner, Hope and reading scholarship programs. redefinED.

Video ordered released: An appeals court rules that a surveillance video showing how law enforcement officers responded during the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 is a public record and should be released by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in the next 48 hours. News organizations argued for the release, while the Broward state attorney’s office argued against it because it’s part of an ongoing criminal investigation. “Parents have such a high stake in the ultimate decisions that they must have access to camera video footage here at issue and not blindly rely on school board experts to make decisions for them,” the 4th District Court of Appeal judges wrote. Associated Press. Sun-Sentinel.

School security: School officials around the state are trying to find the proper balance between providing appropriate security for schools and scaring the students with the officers’ presence. “You don’t want to traumatize a kid, but we also have to satisfy this mandate,” says Hillsborough County director of school security John Newman. Tampa Bay Times. Broward County school officials say they know new security measures such as single-point-of-entry and new gates and fences will be an inconvenience for students and visitors, but it’s the price they have to pay for better security. Sun-Sentinel. St. Lucie County Superintendent Wayne Gent says his deal with the sheriff’s department to provide armed guards for county schools is not a slight to the city of Port St. Lucie. Mayor Greg Oravec has complained that the city was not even consulted before the district struck a deal with the sheriff. TCPalm.

School budgets: St. Johns County School Board members approve a tentative budget of  $725 million. St. Augustine Record. The Hernando County School Board tentatively approves a $279 million budget that boosts reserves to 10 percent, well above the 3 percent required by the state and double what the district put aside last year. Tampa Bay Times. The Leon County School Board tentatively approves a $545.8 million budget, an increase of $14 million from last year. Tallahassee Democrat. The Flagler County School Board tentatively approves a budget of about $189.7 million. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Clay County School Board members approve a tentative budget of $310.5 million. Clay Today. The Gulf County School Board approves a tentative budget that includes $439,795 for new buses and $650,000 for school safety. Port St. Joe Star. The Charlotte County School Board approves a budget of almost $131 million, about $2 million more than last year. Charlotte Sun. Correction: The Marion County School District’s proposed budget for next year is $15.6 million higher than last year’s. Budget numbers were updated after a previous story appeared. Ocala Star-Banner.

Counseling firm fired: A controversial counseling firm is fired by the Orange County and St. Johns County school districts for failing to provide the on-campus staff required. Motivational Coaches of America, which offered the districts free behavioral health and wellness services. also is under investigation by the Florida attorney general for potential Medicaid fraud, and has been sued by former employees who say they weren’t paid what they were owed. Orlando Sentinel. WJXT.

Amendment 8 opposition: Duval County School Board members – except for one – are considering ways to oppose constitutional Amendment 8, which would take the power to authorize charter schools from local school boards, set term limits for school board members and require civics education for students. That one member, Scott Shine, is pushing for its approval and serves as an executive board member for the “8 is Great” campaign. WJCT.

District, charter squabble: Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier is again urging the school board to close the Marion Military Academy charter school, which has received a school grade of D from the state for the past five years. And again, a majority of the board voice support for keeping the school open. Maier says at the least, the school needs a new improvement plan. School officials disagree, saying the plan agreed upon last year remains valid for this school year. Ocala Star-Banner.

Charter schools: Two charter schools get five-year contract extensions from the Hillsborough County School Board, while another is closed. Legacy Preparatory and Focus Academy were extended after answering concerns about their hiring practices, and Town ‘N Country Charter High School closed because of low enrollment. Gradebook.

Contract negotiations: Pasco County teachers and support staff pack a school board meeting to plead for higher pay. District officials say there is no money for raises unless enrollment jumps unexpectedly. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson told the board she wanted to wait until enrollment numbers stabilize in October before talking about raises. Gradebook.

Teachers needed: Monroe County school officials say they still need to hire 19 teachers, and are having problems because most teachers can’t afford to live in the Keys. A project to build housing for employees next to the Sugarloaf School is at least a year away. Key West Citizen. The Gulf County School District is still looking to hire at least seven teachers. Three teachers who were offered jobs backed out after being unable to find affordable housing. “For the first time in the seven years I have been superintendent we have a real teacher shortage,” says Jim Norton. “We’ve never been this down this late in the game.” Port St. Joe Star.

Student assignments: Palm Beach County school officials are checking addresses of every Boca Raton High School student to “weed out” those attending with phony addresses. The school is anticipating about 760 more students this year, and with 3,688 students it will be the largest school in the county. Palm Beach Post. Pasco County School Board members want to toughen penalties against parents who lie about their addresses so their child can attend an out-of-school zone, and protect those students who are in choice schools legally from being turned away if those schools become overcrowded and are unable to meet state class size requirements. Gradebook.

Hearing for ex-superintendent: The Hernando County School Board sets Oct. 3 to hear an appeal of the termination of former superintendent Lori Romano. She was fired June 12 for cause, which was later listed as ineffective leadership and communication. Romano’s attorney demanded a hearing. The board will then decide Oct. 23 whether she is entitled to benefits. Gradebook.

School’s racial turmoil: The elite private Miami Country Day School is struggling to put a stop to racial bullying, which black students say has been going on for years. “Sometimes we deliberately, intentionally take a step forward, and sometimes we kind of stumble forward,” says John Davies, who served as head of school for 18 years and retired last month. “We’ve made great progress, but we have a ways to go.” WLRN.

Dress code on hold: A proposed dress code for Indian River County schools is put on hold for a year by the school board after parents criticize it. Under the code, nearly all words and graphics on clothing and accessories would have been banned, along with leggings. Parents complained that the changes were made too close to the beginning of the school year, and after many of them had bought back-to-school clothes for their children. TCPalm.

School enrollment: Enrollment in Flagler County schools has remained flat at just under 13,000 students since 2007. Almost 12,900 students were counted in April, down 42 from the year before and about 2,800 students shy of the district’s capacity. Flagler Live.

Referendum website: A website is launched by the Lake County School District to explain the tax hike referendum that’s on the ballot Aug. 28. Voters are being asked to approve an increase of 0.75 mills, which would generate about $16 million a year for school security. Daily Commercial.

School board elections: Candidates for seats on the Pinellas County School Board talk at a community forum about ways to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students and improve neighborhood schools. Gradebook. Brevard County School Board candidates discuss teacher pay, security, mental health initiatives and more at a forum. Florida Today. Candidates for the District 5 seat on the Sarasota County School Board debate security and the job performance of Superintendent Todd Bowden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The residency of a Hernando County School Board candidate is in question. Jimmy Lodato insists he does live in his motor home at an RV campsite, though his campsite neighbors say they had never seen his RV there until Tuesday. State law says school board candidates must live in their district by the time they qualify. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: Two Lake County high schools, three middle schools and five elementary schools will have new principals when they reopen next month. Orlando Sentinel.

New administration building: A new administration building for the Santa Rosa County School District has opened in Milton, and all employees are expected to be moved in by the end of the year or early 2019. Pensacola News Journal.

District sued: A former administrator is suing the Sarasota County School District, alleging she was discriminated against and targeted for retaliation after she accused now-Superintendent Todd Bowden of sexual harassment. Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz is a former Booker High School assistant principal whose contract was terminated in April. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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