Florida schools roundup: Education platforms, achievement gap and more

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Education and politics: Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis unveils his education goals for the state that include more school choice, more support for career and technical training, incentives for teacher retention, an increase in the cap for tax credit scholarships, an end to Common Core, an emphasis on civics education and a requirement that 80 percent of education funding go into the classroom. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum touts his plan to raise corporate income taxes to increase education spending by $1 billion, including starting salaries of $50,000 for teachers and $100 million for construction, and vows to end “the voucherizing of the education system.” News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay TimesOrlando SentinelFlorida Politics. GateHouse. Florida PhoenixEducation Week. Associated Press. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico FloridaWUSF.

Achievement gap: The Pinellas County School District improves in five of six categories in its plan to close the achievement gap between black and white students by 2027, according to a report from the minority achievement office. Still, no progress was made between the groups in state English and math exams results, with the gap steady at 33 percent. “It’s good; it’s not great,” minority achievement officer Lewis Brinson tells the school board. “But good is acceptable and encouraging that we will become great … if we continue to keep the focus.” Gradebook. Alachua County School Board members approve an equity plan to close the achievement gap between white and black students, over the objections of some community members who say it needs more accountability and inclusion. The plan has been developed over the past year by Valerie Freeman, director of equity for the school system, who says commitment to the plan is necessary even as changes can be made later. Gainesville Sun.

Image-boosting denied: The Broward County School Board votes to hold off spending more than $400,000 to hire several additional public information employees to help boost the district’s image, which has been battered since the fatal shootings Feb. 14 of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Under the plan, three positions would have been added to report to the chief public information officer: a director of media relations, which would cost $149,497 in salary and benefits, and two communications coordinator positions, which would cost the district another $252,176. Board members say they want to fill the position of chief public information officer before considering the plan. “We should hire the PIO, allow them to determine the needs of the department,” says board member Robin Bartleman. “They may not even want these positions.” Sun-Sentinel.

Health care costs: Fifteen states, including Florida, have set aside no money to pay health benefits for retired teachers, according to a new study by the publication Education Next. Education Week.

Pushing tax hikes: Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins begins his tour of the county with the first of 10 scheduled town hall meetings to answer questions and defend the need for voters to approve a hike in the sales tax so schools can be repaired and built. Eakins’ bottom line is this: Hillsborough has more than $1 billion in new construction needs, almost $1 billion in deferred maintenance and is almost $1 billion in debt. The half-cent sales tax surcharge is expected to raise $131 million a year for 10 years. Gradebook. The Martin County School Board agrees to spend $3 million to design two new elementary schools in anticipation of voters approving an increase in the sales tax Nov. 6. The total cost of building the schools is estimated at $64 million. If the tax doesn’t pass, the district will consider borrowing the money. TCPalm.

District budget: The Duval County School Board approves a $1.76 billion budget that includes taking $2 million from reserves to maintain academic programs. The reserve fund will dip from 5 percent to 4 percent, which is still higher than the 3 percent the state requires. Florida Times-Union.

New leader for bond program: A new director is named to run the Broward County School District’s spending of bond money on school repairs and construction. Frank Girardi, who was the construction manager, is now executive director and will oversee design, construction and cost control for the $800 million bond program, which was approved by voters in 2014 but has been plagued with delays and cost overruns. The previous director, Leo Bobadilla, will focus on maintenance and life-safety issues. Sun-Sentinel.

School security: Duval County Superintendent Diana Greene says she will recommend the district not show kindergarten through 2nd-grade students videos of how to respond during an active shooter situation. Florida Times-Union. After the Parkland shootings last February, seven Guardian Angels showed up at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with their red berets and jackets to help students. Today, only one remains. Sun-Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: The Polk County School Board approves a contract with teachers and other staff that includes a $300 cost of living pay increase, but also an increase in insurance costs. Under the deal, a new teacher can start at a salary of $41,572, and those with 33 or more years advanced degrees can earn up to $66,090. Lakeland Ledger.

Planning new schools: The Pasco County School Board will consider a five-year building plan to ease overcrowding that includes a new middle school in Wesley Chapel, a K-8 school in the Trinity area and a new east county technical high school. Gradebook.

District’s legislative agenda: The Hernando County School District’s agenda for the 2019 session of the Legislature is expected to include busing concerns, security technology updates and teacher recruitment efforts. School board members meet next week to start the discussion and also select a lobbying representative. Tampa Bay Times.

Improvement plan: A Pinellas County charter school that received a D grade from the state in its first year presents an improvement plan to the school board. Officials from Plato Academy Pinellas Park say they’ve set new benchmarks for student performance and are emphasizing improvements in discipline and attendance. The board will vote on the plan next week. Gradebook.

Healthiest schools: Four Florida elementary schools are among the 13 healthiest in America, according to an analysis by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. They are: Belcher and Skycrest in Clearwater; Forest Lakes in Oldsmar; and John M. Sexton in St. Petersburg. To qualify, schools must serve healthy snacks and meals, invest in physical and health education, make resources available to teachers and staff to do so, meet federal nutrition standards and offer students breakfast. Cooking Light.

Transgender suit settled: The Volusia County School Board settles a federal lawsuit that alleged the district violated a transgender student’s civil rights by barring him from using boys bathrooms. Under the agreement, the student, known in the suit as John Doe, will be allowed to use boys bathrooms and locker rooms at all county schools. Metro Weekly.

Suit filed over shooting: A St. Lucie County teacher who was wounded in the mass shooting at a Jacksonville gaming tournament Aug. 26 is suing Electronic Arts, which sponsored the tournament, the operators of the tournament venue and the restaurants where the tournament was held. Dalton Kent, 22, a teacher at Treasure Coast High School in Port St. Lucie, was shot in the leg during the assault in which two men died. Palm Beach Post.

Principal fires back: The principal of Lincoln Memorial Academy insists he did not knowingly give a job recommendation to a teacher under investigation for sexual misconduct. Eddie Hundley criticizes Manatee School district administrators, the Palmetto Police Department, the Manatee Sheriff’s Office Child Protection unit and the Sarasota School Board and accuses them of “corruption and collusion.” He added, “There are no facts to show or tell that I knew about this recent case with (Quentin Peterson, the teacher) because I didn’t.” Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune.

Superintendent criticized: Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor criticizes school Superintendent Rocky Hanna over the district’s investigation into the Lincoln High School basketball coach who is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the team. Proctor calls the investigation illegal and sloppy, and says the coach, Dimitric Salters, deserves to have a trial. Hanna calls the attack grandstanding by an official who’s up for re-election. Tallahassee Democrat.

Principal’s firing sought: Boynton Beach High School principal Guarn Sims should be fired for having a relationship with a school employee, Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy is recommending to the school board. Sims, 49, was removed from the job in July after an allegation that he was having an inappropriate relationship with at least one school employee. The board is expected to vote on the recommendation in October. Palm Beach Post.

Fatal walk to school: A 79-year-old woman and her grandson are struck by a car in Miramar as she walked him to school Tuesday. Marie St. Vil was killed and her grandson has injuries that hospital officials say are not life-threatening. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald.

Student arrested: A 17-year-old Pembroke Pines Charter High School student is arrested and accused of making a false report concerning the use of a firearm in a violent manner. Police say the boy was heard saying, “Guys, I left my gun in my car. You get to live another day,” after an active shooter drill. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum has injected an important question into the campaign debate: Does Florida generate enough revenue at the state level to provide public safety, protect the environment, invest in infrastructure and fund education and social services? Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The League of Women Voters makes no apologies for exposing the deception in Amendment 8. Patricia Brigham, Florida Politics. The University of Florida is getting closer to being a top five public university thanks to renewed state support. Florida’s public schools need the same kind of commitment to rise in quality and the rankings. Gainesville Sun. Recent problems with air-conditioners in Brevard County schools should not take away from the success of the sales tax surcharge voters approved. Gary Shiffrin, Florida Today. Should a girl’s jeans torn at the knee draw a school suspension? Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: One hundred and eight students from central Florida high schools are named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. Orlando Sentinel. The St. Joe Community Foundation is giving $262,500 to 21 Bay County elementary schools to promote literacy. Panama City News Herald. Lillian Mefford, a 9th-grader at Arnold High School in Bay County, is chosen as one of the top 30 young scientists in the United States in the Broadcom MASTERS science competition. Panama City News Herald.