Florida schools roundup: Runcie under fire, financial literacy, shortages and more

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Removing Runcie: The president of the NAACP Florida State Conference and member of the national NAACP board of directors, Adora Obi Nweze, is warning Gov. Ron DeSantis that trying to remove Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie from office would be “an extreme overreach, highly political and racist.” DeSantis has mused about removing Runcie, though he conceded last week that he doesn’t think he has the authority to do so and instead might target school board members. Sun Sentinel.

Closed meetings: Tensions erupt at a Broward County School Board meeting between members over the actions of Superintendent Robert Runcie. Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wants meetings between parents and Runcie to be open to the public. School officials say the meetings are closed so parents can speak freely. The Sun Sentinel is suing, saying the meetings are a violation of the state’s open meetings law. Meanwhile, an audio recording of Monday’s meeting has been obtained. Sun Sentinel. WSVN.

Financial literacy: A bill requiring all Florida high school students to complete a half-credit course on financial literacy and money management is approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, is named the Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Act for the late senator who championed it for years. Florida Politics. Gradebook. WFSU. WTVT.

Scholarship waitlist: The president of Step Up For Students tells the Senate Education Committee that almost 70,000 more students could have been awarded tax credit scholarships if the funds had been available. The waitlist is almost 13,000, said SUFS president Doug Tuthill, but would have been significantly higher if the organization hadn’t stopped taking applications last spring because demand was so much greater than the money available. redefinED.

Teacher shortage: The Hillsborough County School District still has 300 or so teaching positions unfilled, and school board members are pressing Superintendent Jeff Eakins to come up with a plan to quickly solve the issue. “We have to move on this really, really expeditiously,” said board member Melissa Snively. “Every day that goes by is a student’s opportunity for achievement and success in the classroom, and I don’t want to be responsible for taking that away from students.” Gradebook. An audit by Volusia County school staff shows there are 149 teaching positions unfilled as of Jan. 25. Only 20 jobs are listed on the district’s website. Human Resources director Dana Paige-Pender says some of the positions are part-time and some aren’t being filled because there aren’t enough students to justify a hiring. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher honored: Angela Hritz, a history teacher at Davidson Middle School in Crestview, is named the Okaloosa County School District’s teacher of the year. WEAR.

School security: The Florida Senate will discuss the updated school security bill next week. Most senators are praising the changes in the bill that passed last year after the Parkland school shooting, but some say the provision that would allow teachers to be armed is drawing significant opposition. Politico Florida.

Contract agreements: The Pasco County School Board approves a contract agreement with the district’s non-instructional employees that calls for raises of at least 2 percent. Workers still have to ratify the deal. The district and the teachers are at a contract impasse. Gradebook. Teachers in Pinellas County are voting on a contract agreement with the district that provides raises of 2.55 percent. School board member Eileen Long expressed concerns that veteran teachers moving into the district won’t get raises, but union president Mike Gandolfo says, “I’m not working for people that aren’t hired yet.“I’m working for people who are in the system right now.” Gradebook.

Charter teacher pay: The Miami-Dade County School Board may give new consideration to sharing pay increases from a voter-approved tax hike with teachers in charter schools. About 1,830 teachers from charter schools have mounted a campaign to get raises along with other district teachers, and they’ve caught the attention of the school board. Miami Herald.

School closings: Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning’s proposal to close two elementary schools in order to improve academics at a dozen other schools is rejected by the Pasco County School Board. “We need to look deeper,” said board member Megan Harding. “I don’t think closing a school is going to fix it.” Gradebook. The Bay County School Board agrees with Superintendent Bill Husfelt on temporarily closing Springfield, Oscar Patterson and Oakland Terrace elementary schools due to falling enrollment, but wants to try to keep Callaway Elementary open. Panama City News Herald.

Enrollment growth projected: Enrollment in Lake County’s traditional public schools is expected to slow for a year or two before resuming a steady increase, school officials tell the school board. Kelly Randall, who coordinated growth planning for the district, says schools in Tavares and Mount Dora will require additional classrooms by 2021. Daily Commercial.

Audit considered: The Sarasota County School Board is considering hiring a company to further investigate the findings of a recent audit that faulted the district for its record-keeping of construction projects. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Accreditation review: An external committee is reviewing the Leon County School District and is expected to make a recommendation this week on whether to renew its accreditation. Tallahassee Democrat.

District expecting lawsuit: Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna tells school board members that his predecessor, Jackie Pons, may sue for not being rehired as a principal after he lost his re-election bid to Hanna in 2016. Hanna says if the dispute can’t be settled in mediation, Pons has threatened to sue the board and Hanna for nearly $700,000. Pons contends the board had a policy enacted in 2012 requiring the district to rehire past elected officials. The board’s attorney says the policy didn’t cover Pons, who was elected superintendent in 2006. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Early release days: The Pasco County School District is planning to have a monthly early-release day next fall to give teachers more training time. School would release two hours early on one Wednesday a month. Gradebook.

Education podcasts: State Rep. James Bush III, a Democrat from Opa-locka, talks about why he supports educational choice, and the impact it’s had on his district. redefinED.

Crossing guards: Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and County Commissioner Stacy White want to put crossing guards at each of the county’s 43 middle schools, and are asking the commission for a study to project how much it would cost and how it would be paid for. Chronister and White think it can be done for $2 million a year or less. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF.

Confronting bullies: Jenna Gathercole, a 9-year-old student at Viera Charter School in Brevard County, confronts bullying about her autoimmune disease alopecia, which causes her hair to fall out in chunks, with a PowerPoint presentation during lunch. Florida Today.

Notable deaths: Jewett Springer, a longtime Marion County teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent, dies at the age of 79. Ocala Star-Banner.

Cell phone ban: Cell phone use is now banned during school hours at Workman Middle School in Pensacola. School officials say the phones were too distracting. WEAR.

School threats: Three Lee County students face felony charges for allegedly making threats against Oak Hammock Middle, Mariner High and North Fort Myers High schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: We hope that as state officials pursue the governor’s charge to “outline a pathway for Florida to be the most literate state in the nation,” they will examine the myriad factors that contribute to literacy, including ready access to courses in the arts and music. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. If there were ever a time to brush the dust off the education commissioner’s African American History Task Force and promote it to the point of relevance with Florida students, it’s now. Douglas C. Lyons, Florida Phoenix. For the next few months we’re going to hear elected officials tell us what parents of students want. The changes, the policies proposed — we’ll be told — are all in response to the urgent demands of parents and the public at large. But maybe instead of speaking through our elected proxies, maybe parents should have a more of a direct say. Gil Smart, TCPalm. Even though Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie’s chief obstructionist, Tracy Clark, is leaving the district, the ultimate blame for their actions rests with their enablers on the school board. They have tolerated the evasion and denial. Sun Sentinel. School planners are balancing the clear weight of research for later high school starting times against practical and political concerns. The balance still argues for later starts. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education proposals are promising, but won’t solve the teacher shortage issue anytime soon. Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: Stacey Gringauz, a 17-year-old senior at North Broward Preparatory School, and Vance Tomasi, a 13-year-old 7th-grader at Farnell Middle School in Tampa, are the two Florida winners of Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Gringauz and two friends raised $130,000 for victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings by selling personalized bracelets. Tomasi and a friend collected and donated more than 90,000 books to families, schools, group homes, hospitals and libraries over the past two years. Prudential. Former Duval County teacher Jennifer Smith’s idea in 2016 to recycle clothing in her school’s lost and found for students in need is expanding into Palm Beach County. Florida Times-Union. Nine Flagler County students are building bird boxes in hopes of housing Eastern bluebirds. Daytona Beach News-Journal.