Florida schools roundup: Guardians, capital tax rate, suspensions and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Arming school employees: More than a third of the 24 Florida school districts that chose to hire armed guardians for their schools are having trouble recruiting applicants, according to a review conducted by a newspaper and University of Florida student journalists. And some are having trouble with the ones they have hired. Those problems have led many to miss the state deadline to have the guards in place in schools. Tampa Bay Times. School districts had money to spend on school security and few guidelines on how to spend it, and some chose travel, banners and clothing over training supplies, weapons and salaries. Tampa Bay Times. Students at Booker Middle School in Sarasota County get training in the “see something, say something” warning program developed by the Sandy Hook Promise organization. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The St. Lucie County School District now has a deputy and single points of entry in all schools. TCPalm.

Taxes for capital projects: A bill is filed that would allow local school boards to raise their capital tax rates to as much as 2 mills per $1,000 assessed property value with a supermajority vote. Almost 10 years ago, the Legislature capped those rates at 1.5 mills, and several attempts to push the limit back up have failed. The bill filed by State Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, is intended to help districts pay for long-deferred maintenance. Gradebook. Work is expected to begin soon on repairing or replacing air-conditioning systems at Hillsborough County schools with sales tax money approved by voters in November. The tax could generate up to $150 million a year. Gradebook.

DeSantis suspensions: Gov. Ron DeSantis suspends Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, replacing her with assistant superintendent Marcus Chambers. Last year, a grand jury twice investigated the school district after a child abuse scandal in 2017, and came to this conclusion about Jackson: “We are most concerned about her behavior, lack of leadership, and failure to fulfill her obligations as superintendent,” and asked the Florida Department of Education to do something. Northwest Florida Daily News. News Service of FloridaWEAR. WPEC. Tallahassee Democrat. DeSantis also suspends Broward Sheriff Scott Israel for his agency’s failures during the Parkland school shooting. Replacing him is Gregory Tony, a former Coral Springs police sergeant. Israel says he’ll fight the suspension. Sun SentinelMiami HeraldPolitico Florida. Will Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie be next? Sun Sentinel.

Teacher shortage: For the third time in the past four years, a shortage of science teachers is the most critical in the state, according to the Florida Department of Education. English teachers are the second-most needed, followed by math teachers. The ongoing teacher shortage is on the agenda of the Florida Board of Education, which meets Wednesday. Gradebook. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Pay raises for administrators: Days after being named interim superintendent for the Manatee County School District on July 1, Cynthia Saunders authorized raises for five  administrators. In September, she authorized raises for seven more. The superintendent has the authority to award raises without school board approval. Bradenton Herald.

Students and cell phones: Sarasota County School Board members will be reviewing the district’s policy on student use of cell phones during school, and at least two want the rules tightened. Bridget Ziegler wants to ban students from using phones during class, while Jane Goodwin wants to ban their use in elementary schools, have middle-schoolers put them away during school hours and allow high-schoolers to use them on a restricted basis. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charter schools: A St. Augustine charter school is in danger of closing due to financial problems and is being placed under a correction action plan by the St. Johns County School District. The Saint Augustine Public Montessori School is projected to be $191,000 in debt by the end of the school year, according to district chief financial officer Michael Degutis. Since February 2016, the district has taken over one charter school, and two others have closed. St. Augustine Record.

Old school, new use: Seminole County commissioners are considering buying the historic Rosenwald School in East Altamonte, which has been closed since 2011, and repurposing it to benefit the surrounding community. Orlando Sentinel.

New school: A tuition-free private middle school is expected to open this summer in Lakeland. Academy Prep of Lakeland joins Academy Prep schools in St. Petersburg and Tampa. The school aims to draw low-income students who qualify for tax credit scholarships from the state. Steo Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer those scholarships. Lakeland Ledger.

After the storm: Bay County students are recounting how they got through the terror of Hurricane Michael last October by writing their stories. Fourth- and fifth-graders at Parker Elementary School are detailing what they did and how they felt during the hurricane, what they did afterward and what they did while school was closed. Tampa Bay Times.

New school programs: Two Lake County high schools are adding pre-Advanced Placement programs for freshmen who are on an AP track. The courses, which are headed to Lake Minneola and East Ridge high schools, are intended to teach AP-level skills before students are in a class that awards college credit. Daily Commercial.

Helping students: High schools in St. Johns County are getting creative in trying to help students finish their homework and improve their grades. At St. Augustine High School, for instance, five minutes was subtracted from each class four days a week to create a 30-minute period for students to get extra help from teachers. St. Augustine Record.

School update: The Marion County School Board will meet later this month with the outside operator of Evergreen Elementary School for an update on the school’s progress. Educational Directions was brought in to manage the school after it received grades of D or F from the state for six straight years. Ocala Star-Banner.

Board chair’s job search: The chair of the Manatee County School Board says he’s applying to be named president of the University of South Florida. Scott Hopes, 57, says he wants to succeed Judy Genshaft, who is retiring July 1 after 19 years of leading USF. “I may very well be the best candidate,” Hopes says. “The search committee will identify some fantastic candidates, but I think my work in health-care, public service and experience with state agencies has prepared me to be the person to lead USF for the next three to five years.” Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune.

Educators honored: Teacher of the year finalists are named in Volusia and Flagler counties. The winners will be announced Thursday. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Notable deaths: David Lee, the longtime baseball coach at Eustis High School in Lake County, dies a week after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He was 55. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. WOFL.

Health care partnership: After a rocky start, the health-care partnership between the Volusia County Schools and Advent Health is moving forward. The deal exchanges advertising rights for health-care services. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student suspensions: Black and Hispanic students are 4.4 times more likely to get an out-of-school suspension than white students in Leon County, according to a recent report from the Florida Department of Education. That’s about the same rate as reported around the state. WTXL.

Ex-coach loses license: A former Duval County coach and paraprofessional has permanently lost his educator’s certificate for having sexual contact with a female student. Luther Funches, 35, was accused of kissing and fondling a Westside High School senior in 2017 and was fired. No criminal charges were filed. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher arrested: A physical education teacher at the Heartland Christian Academy in Sebring is arrested and accused of molesting a student. Jack Howard III, 27, is accused of lewd molestation on a child over the age of 12. WPTV.

Guns at schools: A 25-year-old woman is arrested and accused of threatening people with a gun in a parking lot outside an Atlantic High School girls basketball game in Delray Beach. Police say Charmeca Mosley also had more than 100 rounds of ammunition in her car. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: With the new governor, the new education commissioner and the Legislature obsessed with charter schools and tuition vouchers for private schools, the Florida Supreme Court has killed the last, best hope for improving the public schools most children attend. Tampa Bay Times. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel refused to accept responsibility for the inadequate training, supervision and actions of his deputies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Feb. 14. So it’s refreshing to see him held to account for a conspicuous failure. Sun Sentinel. Was Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Israel based on awful things the sheriff did? Or the ill-considered things he said? Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel. It’s time to allow the Okaloosa County School District to move beyond its child abuse scandal that has seen multiple indictments, a teacher sentenced to seven years in prison, a superintendent suspended and a cloud over what once was one of the best school districts in the state. Northwest Florida Daily News. We all want to keep our schools safe. But we also want to make sure that our schools remain schools. Sara Collins and Amelia Vance, Tampa Bay Times. Putting guns in classrooms is no way to keep children safe, and in fact would be more likely to result in accidental deaths than prevent a mass shooting. Gainesville Sun. We believe voters have the wherewithal to make a decision on who and how their schools are run — without the restraint posed by term limits. St. Augustine Record. The Manatee County School Board is at another crucial juncture involving its superintendent position. But instead of discussing this, we have the discussion postponed because board members are attending inauguration balls in D.C. and church training in Tallahassee. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: More than 15,000 Duval County parents and students attend the Duval County School District’s School Choice Expo. Florida Times-Union. Students between the ages of 9 and 14 from 28 southwest Florida schools compete in a Lego robotics competition at Cypress Lake Middle School. Fort Myers News-Press. The Immokalee Foundation receives a $100,000 grant to fund its Immokalee Readers program, which helps about 700 elementary school students improve their reading. Naples Daily News.

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